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Today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial was really comprehensive in addressing the smoking issue in Missouri. However, as I’ve remarked before, given that this is the “Smoke-Me State,” I won’t hold my breath that anything useful will happen at the state level. Possibly quite the contrary.
Incidentally, I’m surprised at the editorial’s claim that Missouri ranks as the WORST in the country for workplace exposure to SHS, as noted in the graphic below.
Editorial: The public’s health demands a fix for Missouri tobacco loophole
• By the Editorial Board
Cigarettes increasingly are a habit for the poor and working poor in rural and blue-collar urban areas. The smoking rate is declining fastest in affluent counties across the country.
Those are some conclusions in an analysis released Monday by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The group studied federal survey data on smoking from 1996 to 2012.
The conclusions come as no surprise. But the study offers some county-by-county data that might provide a way to help more people quit. Anti-smoking and cessation campaigns should be targeted to areas where they can be most effective.
Smoking rates have long been persistently high among poorer and less-educated populations. In Missouri, the trend is encouraged by legislators’ resistance to raising cigarette taxes. In fact, cheap cigarettes are about the only thing the Legislature has given the poor and working poor in recent years.
Missouri voters have failed to support measures to raise the state’s tobacco tax — at 17 cents a pack the lowest in the nation — and repeated attempts to raise it legislatively have failed, and failed miserably.
One of the best ways to reduce smoking is to raise the price of cigarettes. The fact that smokes are cheap in the Show-Me State has resulted in Missouri having the fifth-highest smoking rate in the nation. Roughly one in four Missourians over age 18 smokes tobacco.
The state ranks 50th — worst in the country — for workplace exposure to secondhand smoke. The state’s lack of comprehensive smoke-free laws is responsible, according to a study by the National Institutes for Health. Their study shows that 12 percent of indoor employees in Missouri are exposed to secondhand smoke, compared to 7.3 percent across the country.
Missouri lawmakers also fail the people who live in the state by not spending much money on tobacco prevention and smoking cessation programs. Federal programs to help low-income people fight the nicotine habit are too spotty to be of much help.
Tobacco companies, on the other hand, know just how to reach poor and working-class people with targeted advertising campaigns and cheap cigarettes.
They don’t even have to work very hard in Missouri, where a loophole in state law has created a dumping ground for cheap cigarettes manufactured by small tobacco companies.
The loophole was created in 1998 when most states entered into an agreement with the major tobacco companies to settle lawsuits over misleading marketing. Missouri is the only state that is party to the settlement that has not closed the loophole. Now an arbitration panel has ruled that unless the loophole is closed, Missouri will have to forfeit about $1 billion in tobacco-settlement funds in the next 10 years. This year’s hit alone could be $69 million.
That’s a lot of money to lose from a budget that is already thin. But keeping the loophole open carries other costs. The public health expense will be greater, especially since Missouri legislators also refuse to expand Medicaid. When longtime smokers get the diseases associated with smoking, the medical expenses will be borne by private insurance companies, who can be expected to pass them on to company insurance plans. Ultimately, those who have health insurance from their employers will pay more.
It’s time for state lawmakers to help Missouri smokers kick the habit. Close the loophole. Put another tobacco tax increase on the ballot and explain to voters how much other people’s smoking habits are costing them. Pass statewide indoor clean air laws. Put more money into anti-smoking campaigns targeted in areas where smoking rates are highest. Public health concerns should trump the tobacco and tobacco-pushers lobbies once and for all.