Montana puts huge cigarette tax increase on ballot

Another ballot measure to watch. Montana recently put a $2 a pack cigarette tax increase on its ballot to help pay for Medicaid programs. And sure enough, a fishy organization that is quietly funded by RJ Reynolds and Altria is putting out a massive advertising campaign to stop it.

Having lived in Montana for 12 years, I suspect this ballot measure will fail. Montanans are extremely anti-tax. That being said, voters in the state did approve a $1 a pack tax increase about 12, 13 years ago. I was pleasantly surprised that it passed.

That brought Montana’s cigarette tax to $1.70 a pack, which is just below the national average. The raise to $3.70 a pack would be one of the highest taxes in the nation.

This group, called Montanans Against Tax Hikes (notice no mention of that Big Tobacco financing in its name?), is expected to spend up to $680,000 to defeat the measure. According to the Helena Independent, Montanans Against Tax Hikes is almost entirely funded by the makers of Marlboro and Camel. That would be Altria and RJ Reynolds.

That figure compares to $61,000 being spent by proponents of the tax increase. They barely seem to have a chance.

$680,000 sure seems like a lot to defeat a tax measure in a smalls state like Montana, but keep in mind, Big Tobacco spent tens of millions to defeat cigarette tax measures in California (Big Tobacco won the first time, defeating a cigarette tax increase by a few thousand votes, but lost round two, as California raised its cigarette taxes by $2 a pack thanks to a Nov. 2016 ballot measure.)

Probably roughly about 200,000 people in Montana smoke. Say they spend an average of $1,500 a year on cigarettes (that would be just less than a pack a day). It’s believed that every $1 you add to a pack’s cigarette tax drops the smoking rate about 10 percent — so a $2 a pack increase would translate into about 40,000 lost smokers. So 40,000x$1,500xper year = Now you see why Big Tobacco is willing to spend $680,000 to defeat the measure.

The measure would also tax e-cig products for the first time in Montana. The measure goes to a vote in November.

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