Legislative Hypocrisy is Spelled T-O-B-A-C-C-O

In a political world filled with hypocrisy, I don’t know of a greater hypocrisy than the continuing escalation of taxes on cigarettes by the state and federal governments. The federal government is in the process of imposing an additional sixty-two cents per pack tax and the Oregon legislature is considering another sixty cents per pack.

For thirty years we have been inundated by one study after another that demonstrates that the nicotine from smoking is addictive — the studies were, in reality, redundant because anyone who has smoked and quit knows the difficulty of kicking the habit. Additional studies have demonstrated statistical links between smoking and a significant variety of health problems ranging from cardiovascular disease to various forms of cancer. The addictive and health problems associated with smoking have warranted bold faced warnings on cigarette packages and a ban on cigarette advertising on television, radio and most print publications. That has been followed by an increasing restriction on where tobacco cannot be used; i.e public buildings, restaurants, bars, offices, etc.

The fact of the matter is that there is sufficient clinical evidence to justify the out right ban on tobacco products or limit their distribution, like other dangerous drugs, to prescriptions issued by qualified medical personnel. But has that happened? No. And why hasn’t such a clear and obvious solution to smoking been implemented? Because, like gambling, federal, state and local governments have themselves become addicted — addicted to the huge amount of revenue that is produced by the increasing tax burden on smokers.

In most instances, but not exclusively so, the culprits for taxing the addicted are liberal Democrats — you know, like the ones running Oregon. They are so addicted to that tax that despite an overwhelming voter rejection of an eighty-four and one-half cent tax increase in 2007, the same Democrats are back in 2009 proposing a sixty cent per pack increase.

After concluding that the Oregon voters did not know what they were doing when they rejected the cigarette tax increase, the Democat controlled Oregon legislature has wound itself into righteous indignation and concluded, as stated by Rep. Mitch Greenlick, “I am absolutely ready to take on the tobacco industry. Their product kills people.”
But, herein, lies the hypocrisy of the continuing effort to raise tobacco taxes. First, if the product, in fact, kills people, then it should be banned — right now, today. And second, while Greenlick and his fellow liberals may think they are taxing “Big Tobacco”, in point of fact, they are taxing the users of tobacco products. No matter how many times you tell a liberal that companies don’t pay taxes, only consumers pay taxes, it falls on deaf ears — or more likely ignorant ears.

And in this case, this significant increase in state and federal tax falls on those who can least afford it. As noted by Oregon lobbyist Mark Nelson, “Seventeen percent of Oregonians, only those who smoke, would have to pay this tax.“ A multitude of studies have demonstrated and confirmed that a disproportionate share of those who smoke, and thus will pay this tax, are the young and the economically disadvantaged.

A study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noted:

“The portrait of a current smoker features a face far younger than the one just a decade ago, when the demographics of tobacco use started to change. Prior to 1998, adults aged 25 to 44 were the most likely to smoke. Today, the largest share of smokers are aged 18 to 24.”

The CDC also concluded:

“Economic status and level of education also influence the likelihood of smoking, according to the report. For instance, 32 percent of people who live below the poverty line smoke, compared with 24 percent of those who are not poor. People with less than a high school education are far more likely to smoke than those who are college educated, by a margin of 37 percent to 11.3 percent. These statistics have shown little change in the past decade.”

Other studies have noted that nearly forty percent of Native Americans are smokers and that slightly more than twenty-four percent of African-Americans smoke. This latter number includes our current president, Barack Obama, who undoubtedly no longer pays for his own cigarettes given the generous household budget for the White House.

There it is, the young, the economically disadvantaged, and minorities — the staple of the Democrat party. The very people that the liberals have pledged to protect are the victims of the liberals lust for more tax revenues. And let’s not kid ourselves that these liberals are raising the tax in an effort to alter behavior. The fact of the matter is that they have undertaken regression analysis to determine the points at which different percentages of smokers will quit and adjusted the tax rate to insure that the desired revenue can still be raised — in other words they have increased the tax requirement to account for the decline in usage.

Look, if you want to alter behavior either ban cigarettes outright or raise the tax on cigarettes by a significant enough amount that smokers will no longer be able to afford them. But that isn’t going to happen because it’s the tax revenues, not the welfare of the users, that drives Oregon’s Democrat legislature.