Taxing Tobacco

By: Grainne Rhuad

On June 5th in California, during our redundant primary polling, we will also be considering a money making tax initiative.

Proposition 29 is a measure backed by the American Lung Association and American Cancer society.  It provides for a $1 tax on cigarettes (by the pack), the money ostensibly going to cancer research.  A lot of voters are for it.  Evil Tobacco Companies are against it, obviously.

And I, a lifetime non-smoker, who can barely stand to be in the same outside area with cigarette smoke; I think it is wrong.

Another in the long string of measures designed to glean money from citizens who will dependably spend on a certain product, this measure and others like it are simply unfair.

First of all, we already have several measures in place that provide very large amounts of tax on cigarettes. Currently in California the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is $5.50.  But they can cost up to as much as $8.00 in some areas.

In addition we receive millions of dollars in settlements from Tobacco corporations to educate people that smoking is bad.  Of those dollars collected only about 6% is being spent on its intention.  The rest goes to the bureaucracy of figuring out well, how to keep money coming into the bureaucracy, it seems.

People seem to be of the opinion that if someone has a habit that they do not agree with, like or even have the ability to be around that this habit should be taxed.  You often hear things like, “If they are going to smoke, they should pay for it.”

But why?  It has not been made a crime, what is there to pay for other than what is needful for their habit and their resultant diseases?  The same argument could be used for meat eaters.  After all it has also been scientifically proven that eating meat causes health problems like heart disease, hypertension, liver problems, cancer and more.

Another argument often heard is that the tax payers have to pay more for smokers in the form of medical/Medicare.

This argument is simply ridiculous.   Are we to believe that smokers are mostly poor and on welfare programs?  Also Medicare is a social security program.  It is insurance that working people pay for their whole lives to have the privilege to use.  They ARE the tax payers.

What we have here is a measure that ensures money will come in.  Nobody who is smoking is going to stop anytime soon and if they try to that’s okay because Nicotine Patches are taxed too. (Although at this point it is merely our somewhat high California sales tax)

If we are going to tax according to the sure knowledge that we will definitely get the money may I suggest also taxing Methadone.  After all California currently boasts about 180 clinics for Methadone treatment.   That doesn’t even include doctors that administer it.  And, Methadone is just as addictive with patients as likely to pay for it with a $1.00 increase in taxation.

But that doesn’t seem fair to our liberal little hearts does it?  Because Methadone patients are trying to get off of Heroin, a much worse substance right?

Debatable.

In any case, no it’s not right; it singles out one group of people to pay for something that they have no connection to.  Bureaucracy and research for cancer.  Methadone doesn’t cause cancer right?  Neither does smoking cause every sort of cancer; this is another problem with the measure.  The funds can be used for any sort of cancer research.

Proposition 29 is also written to place the decisions on the spending of funds firmly in the hands of those who want to use it most.  On the listed suggested member board are one cardiovascular physician affiliated with a California academic medical center; the chancellors of UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz; two representatives of lobbying groups devoted to tobacco-related illness (including one who has been treated for such a disease); and three representatives from National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the state. There are 10 of the latter, including five UC campuses and the City of Hope.

It has in fact,  been compared to failed Prop 71 ( for stem cell research) which has become a bureaucratic nightmare and provided no restrictions for out of state research. And, which has to date resulted in very little research at all.

According to the glossy literature sent out by the Pro-29 side, right now, 36 states in the U.S. have higher taxes on tobacco than California. This is their argument?  The same one that didn’t hold any weight with your parents “Everyone else is doing it.”?  I suppose if they didn’t want to distance the money making machine of Hollywood they would blame it all on them as well.

However, it is just as unfair to tax smokers in other states, for an activity that they have chosen despite real and readily available information letting them know they will die from it.  Does that sound like a country that expounds freedom of choice?  Does it sound like one that cares about the “pursuit of happiness?”

It is true that tobacco companies have spend Millions of dollars fighting this campaign.  It is also true that they have a vested interest in it failing.  But, consider the quote from Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, who made the observation:

Here’s a rule that should be instilled in the heads of anyone writing a ballot proposition: If you’re so inept that you hand the tobacco industry legitimate talking points, you’ve failed.”

7 Comments on “Taxing Tobacco”

  1. Over half the money for the purchase of a pack of tobacco in our state is in taxes. Like California, the money was promised to cancer research, which i continuously find hypocritical in itself. Research does not mean a cancer patient will have available funds to fight cancer; it only means a truckload of money has been handed over to study the problem. Apart from that, nope. The cancer society didn’t get much of anything out of it. The other promise was that by taxing cigarettes, they would lessen the property tax. They didn’t. The money is all safely squirreled away in the collective legislative pocket, and many are merrily huffing and puffing away with it behind closed doors.

    I suspect that soon enough, they will make smoking illegal. While campaigning on its evils, they’ve already fixed their concentration on the next thing to campaign against. Energy drinks are high on the list. Shall they ban tuna? Tuna, that wonderful food, is no longer so wonderful now that it’s laced with mercury, and mercury is the prime suspect in the epidemic rise in autistic children.

    Why aren’t they banning industrial smoke and other air pollutants? If you are living in a major city, you are breathing in the toxins equivalent to two packs of cigarettes a day.

    But the point, the for your own good people state with self-righteous preening and posing, is that cigarettes are addicting. So what? So is chocolate, coffee, sugar, black tea, soda pop, salty, prepared snacks (aka junk food) and a whole host of legally prescribed pharmaceutical drugs. And of course, that big, bad, number one drug of all; alcohol. Even red meat is addicting. Why? Because it’s full of adrenalin and your body begins to crave the instant rush from it.

    To me, it’s all about picking your poison. I haven’t seen anybody yet who doesn’t indulge in at least one addicting drug.

  2. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – taxes are a “legal” form of theft. People who pay taxes are just giving the ruling classes cash to pay for their own pet projects (whatever they happen to be labeled as…) so that they don’t have to take funds out of their own personal profits or from the MIC accounts to bankroll them – it’s a scam, people!

  3. Grainne: I am a pipe-smoker and have been for many, many years. I am FOR heavy taxation on all forms of tobacco. I truly wish that ‘they’ would tax it out of existance. The sad point is though, when they recently added a hefty rise on the price of tobacco/cigarettes in the UK, people sighed but continued to pay the new prices. All of the smokers I know, including yours truly, continued to smoke ourselves to death. The packets have disgusting pictures on them of rotting lungs, heart disease etc., but it seems to make no difference. A packet of 20 cigarettes now costs over £7 (over $10 US dollars). The good news is that the rate of male adult smokers is now under 40%. The bad is that women smokers appear to be increasing. The display of tobacco products in supermarkets is now forbidden in the UK. They now have to be kept behind a screen. ‘Ordinary’ shops will soon have to follow. There is a big fight going on to have all cigarette packets to be in plain packets with only the name on them. I think that may work better than the tax.
    Incidentally over 75% of the price is in fact tax………………Mike..

  4. I already voted no on that proposition! I have no problem with taxes. I have a problem with taxation that equals more than the value of the item sold. In El Salvador, a pack of cigarettes was about $2.10 when I left. That isn’t even cost. It includes a markup for advertising, marketing and sales promotions . Cigarettes at over $6.00 means the cigarettes are being taxed at three times their value with markup. Something is wrong with that. And I’m a non-smoker now, so this wouldn’t mean a thing to me either, if it weren’t so illogical.

  5. @wicklowmick, I honestly don’t believe you can tax anything out of existance. Particularly if people are addicted. The decrease of smoking according to most studies I have seen has been due to people not beginning, not people stopping.

    In some ways I could understand it more if money were in fact going to help those who are smoking quit and to deal with their health care, but it’s not. In reality it’s a stretch to say it will help anyone other than those administering the collected funds, and there only to up their income. With times being hard people are looking for new means of funding.

    @Jennifer- I had never even thought about weighing tax with production cost. I think if that were the case, I would have to stop buying almost everything, first and foremost, gas and electricity.

    @Az, I tend to agree with you, however, I also believe in meeting people where they are at in their thinking. Since a lot, dare I say even most people are still voting and thinking about what taxes they want to pay, let’s start there and see if a shift in thinking can’t be made. Big things start small.

  6. @ wicklowmick1940,

    Firstly, I find your stance to be hypocritical – on one hand you admit to using tobacco products, then you wish that the state eliminated it altogether for you: it sounds like you don’t have the willpower to resist the temptation and want some other entity to come and and save you from your own inability to resist your addictive urges.

    Secondly, the state *never* taxes anything out of existence – the purpose of taxes is to make money for those in power to spend on repression of internal dissent, wars for resources and their own vanity projects. The “sin tax” applied to certain products is just a conveninet, socially-acceptable way of ripping off regular people to bankroll the state’s schemes.

    @ Grainne,

    I can see where you’re coming from, but to “meet people where they’re at” in this instance involves granting unearned legitimacy to the social fictions that we have been sold all our lives – ad that’s something I will not do. As far as I’m concerned the state is an illegitimate authority and its taxes are little more than protection money people pay to it so that they can avoid its fury…

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