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Advocates launch yet another attempt to hike Missouri's tobacco tax

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 14, 2011 - A 2012 ballot proposal to hike Missouri's tobaco tax -- now the nation's lowest -- has now been approved for circulation among the state's registered voters. The ballot proposal is among three dozen now seeking the necessary signatures to get on next year's ballot.

The ballot proposal would increase the tax by $1 a pack. The tax is now 17 cents a pack, the nation's lowest. The estimated income from the tax hike ranges from $20 million to $100 million.

But the proposal already is igniting controversy because the tax increase would affect only the cheaper brands of cigarettes, not those produced by major tobacco firms.

Backers will need to collect close to 90,000 signatures from registered Missouri voters to get the proposal on a 2012 statewide ballot in August or November.

Here's a portion of the proposed wording, approved by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's office:

"Shall Missouri law be amended to require an additional tax of $1 on each package of 20 cigarettes produced by certain tobacco product manufacturers, which tax shall be paid by wholesalers and used solely for tobacco education and cessation programs and for enforcement and administration of the master settlement agreement by the Missouri attorney general?"

The petition was submitted by Marc Ellinger, a Jefferson City lawyer representing a pro-tobacco-tax-hike group called "Healthy Missouri." Ellinger also represents groups with ties to wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield, who backs other ballot proposals to replace Missouri's income tax with a sales tax, and to give St. Louis control of its police department.

Advocates have tried twice -- in 2002 and 2006 -- to increase Missouri's tobacco tax, but the idea was rejected by voters after withering attacks by tobacco lobbyists and allied business groups.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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