Yet big money doesn't always talk. The tobacco industry contributed millions to the election cycle in Missouri but was unable to sway voters to support a limited tobacco tax. In moves that confused the public, tobacco companies supported two different cigarette tax proposals while health advocacy groups opposed them.
Reynolds American donated $12 million to the campaign in support of Amendment 3, which proposed to phase in a 60-cent tax to Missouri's current
17-cent-per-pack tobacco tax by 2020. The $300 million generated annually from the tax would have gone to early childhood education.
A competing tobacco tax proposal was supported by smaller tobacco companies like XCaliber International and Cheyenne International. The tobacco groups contributed $4.8 million. The measure, on the ballot as Proposition A, called for a 23-cent tobacco tax to be phased in by 2021.
Bigger tobacco firms supported Amendment 3 because a provision of the law would have hurt their smaller rivals by implementing an additional 67-cent-per-pack tax on discount brands—on top of the 60-cent hike imposed on the major brands. The discount brands were left out of a 1998 tobacco lawsuit settlement.
Surprisingly, both the measures were opposed by the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society Action Network, which argued neither tax was high enough to curb smoking rates. The tax increase “has to be significant enough to make consumers pause and think maybe it is really time for me to quit,” said Karen Englert, the American Heart Association's government relations director in Missouri.
James Harris, a campaign spokesman in support of Amendment 3, said the opposition from the health advocacy groups was “very disappointing.” Public town hall meetings were held to determine a tax voters would be willing to approve. A 60-cent tax was the most the public would allow, he said.
“Yes on Amendment 3” ads and social media platforms featured experts who discussed the importance of educating children early. Despite the money to reach voters, Amendment 3 was struck down. Proposition A was also rejected by voters.
The highly contentious election season probably hurt the passage of Amendment 3, Harris said. “It was difficult for people to approve a tax increase when you had Trump's anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric.”
When it came to soda, however, the public was more willing to support a tax. California voters in San Francisco, Albany and Oakland approved a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages. Boulder, Colo. voters approved a 2-cent-per-ounce tax.
“The tide is turning,” said Larry Tramutola, a consultant for the campaigns in support of the California taxes.
The victories in the Bay Area were achieved even with $30 million from the beverage industry poured into opposing the taxes. In San Francisco alone, the beverage industry spent $19.3 million to defeat Proposition V. The support campaigns received about $20 million in contributions.
The beverage industry called the proposals a tax on grocery stores. The ads featured the owners of small grocery establishments concerned the tax would negatively affect their bottom line.
Yet the tactic didn't dissuade voters more concerned about the public health impact of sugary drinks. “It was the right message and the right issue, and clearly people got it,” Tramutola said.