Missouri Proposition B

Today is Election Day in the USA. I voted like a “good” citizen.

This is not a political blog and almost certainly never will be. My politics are both evolving and my own.

In this one rare instance, however, Simpson BBQ endorses voting NO on Proposition B in Missouri.

Prop. B would raise the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from 17 cents (lowest in the USA) to 90 cents (close to the national average). Of the funds raised, estimated to be at least $283 million per year, the money has been “earmarked” – 50% for public schools, 30% for higher education, and 20% for smoking cessation. Here’s the P-D editorial in favor of the measure, and this is the actual proposal.

Let’s start with the famous quote from Martin-Niemöller:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

What the hell has this got to do with a cigarette tax hike? Perhaps some creative liberties with the quote will illuminate.

First they came for the marijuana users,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a marijuana user.

Then they came for the sugary soda drinkers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a sugary soda drinker.

Then they came for the cigarette smokers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a cigarette smoker.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

I like beer. I mean…, I really like beer. I drink it often, along with other alcoholic beverages. It’s regulated and taxed as much as anything else.

I don’t, however, use marijuana. If I am drinking soda, it’s Diet Pepsi. And, no, I don’t smoke cigarettes. I indulge in one or two cigars a year (then regret it the next day) and I have probably only smoked, in aggregate, perhaps two packs of cigarettes in my entire life.

Cigarettes aren’t my vice, so why should I care about this tax hike?

It’s easy to vote YES on Proposition B because cigarettes aren’t your vice. The enticement of “extra” tax revenue (a dubious claim, as I will speculate below) is appealing, especially in a state that could use some more revenue during a recession. Getting our lowest-in-the-land tax raised to the national average makes sense, if you are feeling conformist.

But, what about the things that are your vices? Lots of people drink beer and spirituous beverages and wine… why not tax them next? Why not start taxing fatty foods, in addition to the sodas? Bacon, pork ribs, cheeseburgers, fried foods, frying oils, candy… all potential sources of revenue for a cash-strapped state.

I married an educator, and I believe in the value of education (if my crippling student loan debt is any indicator), but I am highly skeptical that the state education system sees a windfall. Sure, $100M+ may be “earmarked” for public schools. Who says it’s spent wisely, fairly, evenly? Who says the existing funds for schools won’t be reallocated to other expenditures now that extra revenue is coming from cigarettes? What about the revenue from all of the out-of-state smokers who cross into Missouri to buy cigarettes, and then buy food, gas, etc. while they are here?

Yes, I believe cigarettes are vile products made by heartless multinational conglomerates who have lied and will continue to lie to us all the time. I also believe that it’s your right to smoke and face the horrific consequences of your actions.

I don’t, however, believe that adding tax is going to get people to stop smoking. I don’t believe the state government will stop at cigarettes. I don’t think the money will be used as promised.

All that being said, my gut reaction is that this measure passes and the smokers of the state will pony up a few cents more per pack. Then when the alcohol tax hike comes along, they’ll vote for that, too… it’s only fair, right?

One thought on “Missouri Proposition B

  1. Shawn says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Sadly the voters of my state (South Dakota) didn’t feel this way several years ago when they first added $1 per pack tax and then banned it from bars/restaurants. I do smoke, on occasion (mostly as an excuse to get away from my desk during work hours) and for a while did the other activities listed above, and readily agree that increased government power, especially when it involves what is done inside the closed walls of a person’s home, as a general rule, is a bad thing!

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