California $1.50 per pack cigarette tax hike - Part 2

Back on June 10, I criticized Jenesse Miller's letter 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 Google, Ms. Miller found my post and decided to leave her comments. 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 federal program.

  • 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.