Saturday, January 20, 2007

More Cigarette Tax

This would be a great time to tell you what a great idea additional tax on cigarettes for children's health care is ... not. Health care for children is a great idea, over due, as is some form of universal health care. Not just great ideas, wonderfully, stupendously, awesomely great ideas. Paying for them with additional cigarette taxes is errant nonsense. These are Oregonian's children, not cigarette smokers' children. On a pack of Camel straights @ $5.00 the tax is 24% of the cost, that's not the tax rate which is 31% and that is on top of the federal taxes. I mention Camel straights because I smoke 1/2 pack/day of them.

I make no claim that cigarettes aren't bad for your health, they absolutely are. There are some real basic problems with some of the claims, but that's small change. It cannot be shown that those costs are not recovered over time, there certainly are some issues about aging vs not that get lost. Even that is not the point. The point is that cigarette smoking has not squat to do with child health care. Yes, you can impose that tax by vote on a minority that hasn't enough votes to challenge it, because you can do something does not make it right or reasonable. It might not bother anybody that most smokers make less than the median income, but it sure seems an odd way to be progressive.

People make "fairness" claims about the social and health costs posed by cigarette smokers, as though voluntary choices like that only include smoking. Maybe those advocates would be well paid to take a look at the consumption of alcohol when they bring up those kinds of costs. It does pose a bit of a problem for the cigarette agenda, smoking pales in comparison. The single greatest hit in those costs is ... alcohol. Yes, there's an elephant in the living room and nobody notices. As far as personal health goes try on liver damage, brain cell death, nerve damage, esophagus and stomach damage, lowered immune system, circulatory damage, and pregnancy issues, then move onto mental health issues, including verbal and emotional components, neglect, irresponsible behaviors . From there add in car crashes, falls, assaults, lost work days. Then go take a look at the prison system and find how many crimes were committed under the influence. This stuff is advertised on TV and in magazines and its use is glorified, yes, in front of children. What works for alcohol is much better lobbying and advertising and a much larger constituency.

*Further disclosure* I don't drink, I haven't for almost 19 years, I do know something about it.

Do I want to duck responsibility for my smoking habit? No. I've smoked for over 35 years, though, and I'm healthier than the majority of the population and you'd better be in outstanding condition if you want to keep up with me. Since I can't afford to retire you don't need to worry about taking care of me in old age, besides I like my work.

If we're going to take on progressive ideas and institute policies on those ideas, let's do that exactly, do progressive things in a progressive manner. I'm sorry Gov. K. this idea sucks, but I voted for you and still would.

Blue Oregon is having a nice argument and they even have a poll. I don't like the idea over there either.


Jeff Alworth said...

Chuck, I'm glad to see we disagree on one thing--it's unseemly to be too much in accord.

Taxing cigarettes has an additional advantage you didn't mention--it reduces consumption, and particularly, consumption by young people. I'm not an anti-smoking fascist; you should be able to smoke anywhere you want outside, and it's probably okay to allow some bars to remain smoking, too.

But let's be honest: except for pleasure, there is no benefit to smoking. Unlike alcohol, most smokers are addicts whose health is almost assuredly worse for smoking (I don't doubt you're healthier than the average American, but you'd be healthier still if you didn't smoke). The large majority of alcohol users are not addicts.

Alcohol has its dissadvantages--cigarettes don't cause you to beat your wife or drive your car into ditches (well, no more so than cell phones or hamburgers)--but it doesn't threaten the health of others simply by its use.

I also can't agree with the progressive frame you use: smoking is a choice. If poor people wish to bankrupt themselves, I am certainly in no position to say they're not allowed to do that (I'm enough of a libertarian to say live and let live). They're adults.

I wouldn't go to the mat for this tax, but on balance, I think it makes sense.

Chuck Butcher said...

If you want to tax cigarettes to reduce their consumption, put the tax proceeds to that end, otherwise you're being dishonest. These are Oregon's children we're talking about, not smoker's children, you want a tax do it up front and honestly, not on the backs of a minority that can't defend themselves.

Let me repeat myself, I smoke one of the most expensive cigarettes and the tax is virtually 1/3, on the cheaper ones it gets close to 1/2 so the disincentive is already in place.

Too much agreement is truly unseemly, but I don't mind... Thanks for commenting

Jeff Alworth said...

As I understand it, economists regard many taxes and tax breaks as incentives (in the case of taxes, the incentives is often NOT to do something), which is sound public policy and not sneaky, in my view. And kids, you know, are a pretty good place to spend dough.

But as I said, I'm not planning to go to the mat for this one. On the scale of 1 to 10 (ten being highest), my interest is about a 2, so...

Chuck Butcher said...

I don't like spending an extra $1.19 for cigarettes, but I also don't want kids starting without an idea of the consequences. The only reason I take this mess so seriously is the actual principles involved. While it takes some effort to stay at 1/2 pack, I don't take a big hit at $0.60/day, though it's actually a bit more than pocket change in a year. I truly object to being singled out versus a worse problem.