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Taxing smokers is unjust and ludacris

I am not a smoker. There was a period of two months where (for whatever reason) I smoked a tobacco pipe whenever I got in the car. And I smoked a hand rolled cigarette after most meals. The only thing I ever found habit forming was the act of having something to do when I got in the car or something to do after a meal. I never found tobacco itself habit forming. One day I lost my pipe (an antique wooden one at that) and, conceding that smoking is also unhealthy, decided I should stop.

Now that I have that caveat out of the way…

I was recently discussing tobacco taxes with a co-worker of mine…as he stood outside smoking. He is a smoker and has been for decades. He is also very well off. He lives in the mountains, shops on Rodeo Dr. and likes his BMWs with fewer miles on them than his shoe size. He has a B.A. in communications from UCLA. As you will see below, he is statistically rare.

"I don’t care if cigarettes get to be $10/pack. I’m still going to smoke. I know it’s probably bad for me, but I like smoking." But he poses what I think is a good question: what about the proverbial lower-middle class wage earner living paycheck to paycheck who is just as addicted, but makes $30K and has to support kids or pay bills AND purchase cigarettes to make it through his day?

Keep that in mind and let’s look at the SCHIP Bill that was recently passed by the House and Senate, but vetoed by President Bush. Go ahead and skim down to the end of the fourth paragraph in that NPR story to find where and how the money was going to come from to fund SCHIP……….did you see it?
A $0.61/per pack tax on CIGARETTES!!!

Now let’s look at who smokes in the U.S.

According to the CDC, 56.9% of smokers live at or below the poverty line. Presumably, most of these receive Medicaid. So Congress wants to tax those people to pay for lower-middle class children to have healthcare? I can not see how this is justified. Is there nowhere else (ahem..the quagmire) from which to pull out funds? And why is Congress burdening citizens who wait tables, change oil or dig ditches for a living with this tax?
I would totally agree with Congress if they could show that people in this demographic are sneaking into middle-class households at night, breathing smoke on innocent, sleeping children. Where is the correlation between people who smoke cigarettes and children who need healthcare? In other words, a gasoline tax to pay for roads makes sense. The structure of the proposed SCHIP plan does not.

By comparison, just 18% of people with a college degree smoke. The presumption I am making here is that people with a college degree are more likely to obtain employment that either a) offers benefits, b) pays a wage significant enough to purchase their own healthcare.
(Or if SCHIP had passed, c) enroll their child in SCHIP)

Furthermore, taxing tobacco is a total cop out for legislators because they know they can always fund any "goodwill" project on the backs of smokers because no one wants to be seen as soft on smokers or as a friend of the Tobaacco Industry. Tobacco is one of America’s demons that it wrestles with. Congress could always cut the DoD budget by 1% (this results in $30 billion over 5 years) and use that money to fund healthcare for children who live just above, at and below the poverty line. But no, they want to tax (predominantly) poor, uneducated people.

Besides, no one wants to appear soft on defense.

Perhaps when legislative bodies (Federal and/or State) pass higher taxes on cigarettes, they apply the theory that people will feel the economic pinch and it will influence smokers to quit. But this hypothesis can not hold water when applied to motorists and the rise in cost of gasoline. Despite the increase in gasoline prices, are Americans driving any less? I tried to look for statistics on this, but got impatient. My first reaction (again, not founded on any statistics) is that American driving patterns remain largely unchanged…if not increased. And gasoline prices have risen at least 61 cents per gallon over the past two years…which is still less than a pack of cigarettes.

The same is true with smoking. Taxes don’t stop people from smoking. Just like with losing weight or going to rehab for drinking, quitting smoking is a behavior change that relies on a person making a decision for him or her self and sticking to it. In my opinion, and from my personal experience, external sources can not successfully precipitate a lifestyle change. (With the exception of cigarettes being completely illegal…then in the absence of mass manufacture and distribution, I think the amount of smokers would decline dramatically, but still never hit zero.)

I do not see second hand smoke as problematic in relation to other hazards faced in the day to day. I think taxing trans fats or high fructose corn syrup is a much better way to go if Congress wishes to levy a tax on anything in return for the service of healthcare. I have no hard numbers, but when it comes to second hand smoke vs. trans fats, I am going to take a wild guess that more people come into contact with trans fats more often than second hand smoke. The same for HFCS.

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Presumably, most of these receive Medicaid.

Emphasis on presumably as I must admit I have no idea how Medicaid works. I can only assume it helps those in poverty receive medical attention at reduced or no cost.

Congress could always cut the DoD budget by 1% (this results in $30 billion over 5 years)

btw…the NPR article quotes the price tag of SCHIP as $35 Billion over 5 years. So maybe we could tax oil and utility companies for spewing toxins in the air. Or perhaps Congress could strike an 11th hour compromise with the lobbyists and get a cool $1 billion from oil and utility companies combined per year for 5 years to make up the difference? I mean, surely huge oil companies pulling down $39.5 bil net can get together and toss a little bit of money back at the American people whose children and environment live with the carcinogenic additives.

Where have I been?

Apparently, the SCHIP bill passed!

I guess this gaffe of mine reveals two things: the extent to which I researched this topic and b) how up I am on current events.

Oh well. At least I correted myself!

>>But no, they want to tax (predominantly) poor, uneducated people.
>>Taxes don’t stop people from smoking.

My personal experience supports this. I knew many people in this circumstance. The three main priorities in their lives next to food and water were:

  • Cigarettes
  • Coffee
  • Megabucks (Lottery)

(Which for some was a big improvement over their past of: Cigarettes, Alcohol and Alcohol.)

These were, as I witnessed, carefully budgeted each week with meticulous planning and foresight to make sure they were obtainable at almost any cost.

>>where and how the money was going to come from to fund SCHIP……….did you see it?
So by having a cigarette tax of 61 cents, the poor would essentially (as statistics show) be funding their own program?

I understand your reasoning and agree the majority of those paying the tax on cigarettes are those who can least afford it. However, I don’t think this qualifies the tax as being unjust, due to the fact that it is completely and totally voluntary. Ignorance or addiction are not excuses. Just like playing the lottery.



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