Show MeYour Tobacco Permit

Missouri cigarette tax hike could lead to licensing

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- If supporters of a tobacco tax increase in Missouri succeed in getting enough signatures to put their measure on the November ballot, tobacco retailers in the Show Me State could be required to get a permit, said the Associated Press.

Missouri is one of the few states that does not requires a license to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products. Wyoming and Minnesota are the others; Minnesota allows cities to require a license.

The proposed constitutional amendment says nothing specifically about licensing [image-nocss] tobacco retailers. But it would dedicate a portion of the projected $351 million to $499 million in annual tax revenues to a comprehensive statewide tobacco control program consistent with the best practices of the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

To actively enforce tobacco laws, the Department of Public Safety has projected that it would need to require licensure of tobacco retailers and hire an additional 25 enforcement agents and five clerical employees.

They're not licensed presently, so we don't even have a good idea who is retailing cigarettes and tobacco products to the public, said Pete Lobdell, supervisor of the department's Division of Alcohol & Tobacco Control. If you don't have them identified, it's hard to keep track of the criminals who are selling tobacco products.

The state agency already licenses about 13,000 alcohol establishments, charging fees ranging from minimal amounts up to $1,000 a year, depending on the type of alcohol and the time and place it is sold. When enforcing alcohol laws, such as the prohibition against selling to minors, the division can seek to revoke a violator's license, a tool that effectively shuts down the business. But because tobacco retailers are not licensed, law enforcement officials currently can only take action against the clerk and the underaged buyernot the store, Lobdell said.

We can see where licensing could be advantageous, he said.

Lobdell said, however, that Republican Governor Matt Blunt's administration is opposed to any tax increases.

The Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association opposes the potential licensing as unnecessary. My members comply with all the applicable laws, they pay all the appropriate taxes, said Ron Leone, executive director of the group. To add another layer of bureaucracy to generate more fees or more full-time state employees is not something we're going to support.