For the third time in a decade, Missouri voters will get the chance to raise the lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax.
Voters rejected tobacco tax hikes in 2002 and 2006. Both years, the nation's biggest tobacco companies spent millions to oppose the increase.
But this time around, those same companies have said they are sitting out the campaign on Proposition B.
At 17 cents per pack, Missouri's tax is nearly half as much as the next lowest and well below the $1.49 national average. In Kansas, the tax is 79 cents a pack.
If it wins approval Nov. 6, Proposition B would raise Missouri's tax to 90 cents per pack, generating an estimated $283 million to $423 million a year in additional tobacco tax revenue.
Supporters describe the tax as an effective way to reduce smoking rates while raising revenue for worthy programs.
State officials have said the new money would be put into the Health and Education Trust Fund. Half would go to K-12 public schools; 30 percent to higher education, and 20 percent to tobacco-use prevention and stop-smoking assistance programs.
Supporters said that would translate into millions of dollars in additional funding for area schools, including nearly $3 million for North Kansas City, $2.7 million for Lee's Summit, and $2.3 million for the Kansas City district.
Opposition to Proposition B is being led by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association. It is being backed financially by off-brand cigarette companies, which oppose a provision that eliminates a pricing advantage they currently have in Missouri over larger tobacco companies.
Convenience store owners complain that raising the tax to 90 cents will put Missouri at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states, and could lead to job losses at stores bordering Kansas and Illinois.
Opponents contend that the higher tax also will result in fewer cigarettes sold in Missouri, which would mean the amount of sales and other state and local taxes collected would actually decrease.