Back on June 10, I criticized Jenesse Miller's
to the editor that appeared in the SF Chronicle, in which she supported a $1.50
per pack increase in California's cigarette tax. Thanks to the wonder of
Ms. Miller found my post and decided to leave her
Her comments have been repeated below in italics, along with my response:
Since you asked, I think that if I was still a smoker and I knew that the tax
would actually go to programs that help people quit (not to mention an analysis
showed that the additional tax would cause over half a million smokers to quit),
and help kids decide not to start smoking in the first place, I may not love it,
but would at least consider that to be a fair proposal.
The question I asked was, "I don't really have $1,000 to spare. Do you?". How can
a new tax be fair if it so high that it is unaffordable? If the tax is excessively
high, what difference does it make where the money goes? Considering that only
20 cents of the $1.50 per pack tax would be earmarked for anti-smoking efforts,
how is the other $1.30 of the tax fair to smokers? Since you are only pretending
to know how a smoker would think or feel, it is easy to see how you can pretend
this tax is fair.
I have a problem with the whole concept of forcing people to quit using a legal
product by raising the price so high they can't afford it any more. I made my
choice to be a smoker, and those who support high cigarette taxes are interfering
with my right to choose.
As far as the kids who start smoking - where's the parents? If parents are unable
or unwilling to keep cigarettes out of the hands of their minor children, why is
that my problem? There are already laws on the books prohibiting the sale of
cigarettes to minors. Enforce them.
The reality is that right now the tobacco tax is being redirected into other
things and that's not fair to smokers -- if they're going to be taxed, part of
that tax should go into quit programs that actually benefit them.
Part of the current state cigarette tax is already directed into programs that
are supposed to benefit smokers. 25 cents of California's current 87 cent per
pack cigarette tax is earmarked by Proposition 99 (November 1988) for:
Tobacco-related health education programs and disease research.
Medical and hospital care and treatment of patients who cannot afford those
services, and for whom payment will not be made by any private coverage or
Programs for fire prevention; environmental conservation; protection,
restoration, enhancement, and maintenance of fish, waterfowl, and wildlife
habitat areas; and enhancement of state and local parks and recreation.
The other 62 cents of the cigarette tax is earmarked for the following:
10 cents goes to state General Fund.
2 cents goes into the Breast Cancer Fund.
50 cents funds Proposition 10 (November 1998) ("California Children and
Families First Trust Fund")
If the current cigarette tax is not fair to smokers, increasing it by 172% surely
cannot be fair and is not an answer. To raise tax revenue for quit programs,
I would seriously look at repealing Proposition 10 and direct those funds into
Proposition 99 - effectively tripling the revenue available without costing
smokers one cent more than they are paying now. Why do smokers alone have to
bear the cost of a program to benefit children? (With California's current
budget mess, that 50 cent tax would actually be more helpful if it were routed
to the General Fund instead.)
And frankly, if you keep smoking, it is likely that my tax dollars (and the
tax dollars of the 82% of Californians who don't smoke) will be the ones paying
for your treatment for cancer or heart disease, hospitalization, and so on,
as they are currently paying for people who are now dying from years of tobacco use.
So what? The costs of medical care for the minority who need it are spread across
the majority through the tax dollars and insurance premiums paid by everyone. This
is by design; this is how it is supposed to work. The 18% of Californians who do
smoke actually pay higher taxes and insurance premiums than non-smokers do. Their
tax dollars benefit non-smokers too - it is hardly unfair that medical care is
provided to those who need it, smoker or not.
You can point at any disease or disorder - only a minority suffer from them at
any given time, and the costs of their treatment is spread across everyone.
Approximately 6% of the population suffers from diabetes. The cost of medical
care for diabetics is spread across the 94% of the population that does not have
diabetes. Should taxes be raised for diabetics so that the majority does not have
to pay for that care?
Perhaps that will further your belief that I'm a loser... and I have lost;
lost my grandfather at age 62 to cancer caused, in all likelihood, by smoking,
not to mention my 21-year-old sister has been smoking since the Joe Camel
marketing-to-little-kids days when she was 12 years old, and I know she might
seriously consider quitting smoking now if it became too expensive to continue.
You seem to miss an important point here. Your sister is an adult now - she has
the right to make her own choices. You may want her to quit, and it may even be
better for her if she does, but that is her choice to make, not yours. She has
apparently made her choice, and you don't like it. Get over it. If the only way
she can be convinced to quit is to make cigarettes prohibitively expensive, your
arguments must not be that persuasive. (I certainly don't find them to be so.)
I stand by my position on the proposed tobacco tax.
It looks to me like you're standing on pretty weak ground.
Good luck in your own quit attempts. It can be done.
If you would read my prior posts a little closer, you would see that it is my
girlfriend Rhye who is attempting to quit smoking, not me. She has been smoke-free
now for 2 weeks. I am well aware that it can be done but I have no intention
of quitting at this time.
Thanks for your comments, but I am not any more in support of this tax than I
was last month. Despite whatever lofty goals you think may be achieved, a tax
that is a bad idea and bad policy is not the proper way to accomplish them.