University publicly opposes controversial amendment
Amendment 3, one of the proposed changes to Missouri’s constitution that will appear on Missouri ballots Nov. 8, has voters split due to its scope of issues and precise wording. Though Washington University generally makes a commitment to remaining politically neutral, it has taken a public stance against the proposal.
Amendment 3, formally known as the Missouri 60 Cent Cigarette Tax Amendment, aims to augment early childhood education in Missouri by raising taxes on cigarettes, which are currently the lowest of any state in the nation. Now at 17 cents, the cigarette tax would reach 77 cents by 2020—increasing by 15 cents each year.
The proposal emphasizes that the estimated $263 to $374 million dollar state revenue increase brought in by the tax would be strictly designated to the newly established Early Childhood Health and Education Trust Fund. The amendment, however, outlines that the money is not eligible to go towards funding abortion services and stem cell research. But, it doesn’t defund—or decrease current funding—for the two areas.
However, many question why a bill designed to curtail tobacco use and aid early childhood development would discuss abortions and stem cell research at all. Stem cell research and production was protected by Missouri Constitutional Amendment 2 in 2006.
“Washington University opposes Amendment 3, the tobacco tax initiative, because it contains language that conflicts with state constitutional protections for stem cell research,” Washington University told Student Life in a statement. “The Amendment 3 ballot initiative erodes medical research safeguards passed by voters in 2006, thereby adversely affecting the development of new therapies and cures for diseases impacting our citizens.”
The statement goes on to list numerous other organizations in spheres of education, health care and research that also oppose the Amendment, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, Missouri Cures and more.
Senior and president of the College Democrats Jimmy Loomis supports Amendment 3. In 2013, he became Missouri’s youngest elected official when he successfully ran for Democratic Committeeman of Clayton. He believes a serious commitment to improving early childcare education will help the economy, increase high school graduation rates and decrease incarceration.
“I think it’s unfortunate that Wash. U., given its prominence in the medical community, is not supporting this program which would do so much in terms of lowering smoking rates and in terms of really increasing funding for education, which is so big as we’ve seen in terms of how it’s linked to overall health and wellness in general,” Loomis said.
The amendment has people torn for multiple reasons: some claim it was drafted by big tobacco companies themselves and will do very little to reduce smoking. Others worry about having an unelected body responsible for making funding decisions with public tax money.
Loomis, considering such opposition, feels the amendment demonstrates a level of bipartisanship necessary to get things done in a state like Missouri.
“That this will be the fourth attempted tax increase on tobacco products in the last ten years, and this is probably our best chance at getting it done,” Loomis said. “It may not be perfect, but you have to realize with these things, in a more conservative state like Missouri, you have to work with the other sides who may not agree with you to get the best possible outcome.”
Senior Daniel Giuffra, who has been active in various groups combating tobacco addiction since his time in high school, feels that opposition to the amendment from various anti-tobacco groups in itself is telling.
“There’s a lot of literature on what makes a tobacco tax a good tobacco tax [for decreasing smoking rates], and it tends to be that a single time raise of at least 10 percent [of total cost] is necessary. So if the cost of pack of cigarettes is $5.50, then ten percent of that is $0.55, and 15 cents is just not enough,” he said. “That’s why you see American Cancer, American Lung, American Heart, all of the public health organizations that have worked in tobacco control not supporting this amendment.”
Giuffra also believes that in addition to failing to lower smoking rates in the state, Amendment 3 could endanger future efforts to combat addiction.
“What you see happening is that you have a 15 cent increase every year, so in four years it’s going to be at 77 cents, which will still be well below the national average,” he said. “What that means is that between now and 2020 there’s going to be no way to have any amendment passed that will increase it even more because taxation is very difficult to pass. So having a weak tax passed inhibits any strong tax being passed.”
For Giuffra, this reasoning explains why Reynolds American, a tobacco company which owns brands including American Spirit, Camel and Newport, has contributed upwards of $5 million— the largest contribution of any single group—towards the pro-Amendment 3 campaign.
In addition to these concerns, Giuffra echoed Wash. U.’s sentiment.
“There are also restrictions on academic research that are part of the bill that aren’t conducive to the purpose of the bill,” he said.
According to Loomis, members of College Democrats at Washington University are split on the issue, like much of the voter pool.
“There are certainly some who do share my view that this is what’s in the best interest of Missouri children, and then there’s some that think that this isn’t the best way to address those issues,” Loomis said. “I’d say it’s about an even split among those who are knowledgeable on the issue.”
Additional reporting by Chalaun Lomax.