Dueling Missouri tobacco tax initiatives causing confusion

ST. LOUIS (AP) " Missouri voters are facing the confusing prospect of two separate proposals on the same ballot that would increase the state's lowest-in-the-nation tobacco tax by different amounts.

But what if they both pass? Even state offices that oversee elections and administer laws aren't sure, conceding that the courts may be left to sort it out.

In a nation where the average pack of cigarettes is taxed $1.65, Missouri's tax is just 17 cents. Amendment 3 would raise the tax by 60 cents in phases through 2020 to pay for early childhood programs.

Meanwhile, Proposition A would raise the tobacco tax 13 cents in January, another 5 cents in 2019 and a final 5 cents in 2021. The additional money would fund transportation infrastructure projects.

The results are simple enough if one proposal passes and the other fails, or if they both fail. Experts are uncertain what happens if they both pass.

Article III, Section 51 of the Missouri Constitution states that when "conflicting measures" are approved in the same election, "the one receiving the largest affirmative vote shall prevail."

But Nanci Gonder, spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster, said that may not apply.

"Whether the two tobacco tax propositions are actually in conflict, however, is a question that would likely be addressed by the courts after the election, if both measures pass," Gonder said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Stephanie Fleming, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jason Kander, said in an email that deciding which tax would become effective if they both pass "is not our office's jurisdiction, and could be a decision for the courts."

If dueling tax hikes aren't confusing enough, consider that tobacco companies are the driving financial force behind both measures. Reynolds American Inc., the parent company of the RJ Reynolds tobacco company, has spent millions in support of Amendment 3. A provision would impose an additional 67-cent-per-pack tax on their smaller competitors.

Smaller tobacco companies such as North Carolina-based Cheyenne International are financing the effort behind Proposition A, which they say would provide a fair tax increase that does not unfairly benefit Big Tobacco.

Chuck Hatfield, a lawyer representing Cheyenne International, said he believes both will be implemented if they both pass.

"There's been some people out there saying 'the one that gets the most votes,' but that's not right," Hatfield said. "The only time you go to the most votes is if they're directly in conflict with each other, like you have one that was imposing a tax and the other is completely repealing a tax."

Some health organizations are encouraging voters to turn down both measures. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association in Missouri and other groups said in a joint statement this month that voters "shouldn't let the tobacco industry write policies that ultimately keep our state's youth hooked on these deadly products.

"Tobacco products in Missouri are too cheap, and the health costs are too high," the statement read. "Our state is long overdue for a tobacco tax increase, but it needs to be one that will make a difference and save lives."

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AP reporter Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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