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Make Mine Freedom

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tobacco Tax in Idaho is a Bad Idea

There has been an attack on smoking for many, many years in the political world. Justifiably so, too. Smoking is bad for your health. It stinks and has been proven to cause cancer, emphysema and a plethora of other ailments. The wise thing for smokers to do is to quit.

However, who’s job is it to make smokers stop smoking? Who has the right to tell them they can’t start in the first place? Apparently, several groups in Idaho think they do. The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, Idaho State Dental Association, American Heart Association, Idaho Medical Association, Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, Idaho Primary Care Association, Saint Alphonsus Health System (whoever they are!), Idaho Society of Respiratory Care, American Lung Association in Idaho, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, The Idaho Oral Health Alliance, Idaho Public Health Association, Oncology Nurses of Southern Idaho, Idaho Public Health Districts, American Dental Hygienists’ Association, Idaho Academy of Physician Assistants, Tobacco Free Idaho Alliance, the March of Dimes, Comprehensive Cancer Alliance for Idaho, Idaho Association of Counties, and the Idaho Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics have all signed on in support of a bill in Idaho proposing to increase the tobacco tax by $1.25.

According to a flyer found at the website for Comprehensive Cancer Alliance for Idaho (http://www.ccaidaho.org/docs/TobTaxtalkingpointswlogos120110.pdf), “Increasing the tobacco tax is a WIN, WIN, WIN solution for state governments.” That alone should scare the pants off of any Idahoan. State or Federal, I’m of the opinion that a win for the government is a loss for the people, and they claim three wins for state government.

Unfortunately, there is one lesson legislators (federal or state) absolutely refuse to learn: Morality, Virtue and Good Health CANNOT BE LEGISLATED! In many cases, these cannot even be taught. Most of the time, the only way such matters will ever change is by individual learning and coping with their absence.

Nevertheless, the ads have begun. Proponents “support an increase in the tobacco tax to save lives, reduce health care costs and generate much-needed revenue for Medicaid.” Sounds good, doesn’t it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to save lives or reduce health care costs? In reality, these are two lies and a shill for an ailing federal entitlement program.

Lie Number One: an increase in the tobacco tax will save lives.

Proponents state:
  • A $1.25 increase in a cigarette tax in Idaho will decrease youth
     use by an estimated 19% with many youth choosing to not to
     even begin to smoke because:  
    • Studies, and experience in state after state, show that higher cigarette taxes are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking among both youth and adults.
    • Every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by 7 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.2

Call me a skeptic, but when has a tax increase ever saved a life, let alone multiple lives? It is only Left-wing Progressive thinking that even permits such a consideration. Taxes do not and CANNOT save lives. Not even the 911 tax that goes to emergency services really saves any lives. Don’t believe? Have you ever had an ambulance ride to the hospital? Did you receive a bill from the EMT service? Did you pass out when you saw the bill? Of course, you did, and that’s because the tax collected does nothing to cover the cost of the Ambulance or other emergency service!

Of course, an increase in tax on a product results in an increase on the price of the product. Right now, according to the Idaho State Tax Commission, “The tobacco tax rate in Idaho is 40% of the wholesale sales price of the tobacco” (http://tax.idaho.gov/i-1048.cfm). More importantly, thanks to the Federal Government and their shenanigans, money is tight for everyone. It naturally follows that limited means combined with increased cost will deter an increase in tobacco purchases.

However, All we need to do is look at the drug war. Millions if not billions of tax dollars are spent trying to combat drug problems (Read: keep people from using drugs). It hasn’t worked, and isn’t going to work. That’s with the drugs that are already illegal.

Tobacco is not an illegal drug. Still, if the goal really is deterrence, why stop and $1.25? Why not really make it hurt to buy tobacco? Increase the tax to $5.00, $10.00, or $100.00. Why not make each pack of cigarettes cost $1000.00? At $1000 per pack, suppliers won’t be able to buy packs, let alone cartons of cigarettes. The product will become extinct in Idaho.

It will never work, though. Adult smokers are going to smoke no matter what the price may be. And, contrary to the good vibes and the best wishes of the proponents and their allusion to studies, a tax increase will not prevent kids who want to smoke or chew from doing so. Both adults and youth will find a way to get it. Is Idaho ready for a black market in tobacco, or perhaps, an increase in convenience store robberies?

Lie Number Two:  An increase in the tobacco tax will reduce health care costs.

Proponents cite that “tobacco use currently costs Idaho $319 million a year in health care related costs” and that “residents’ state & federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures is $539 per every tax paying household.”

As I’ve alluded to previously: Smoking is not a healthy past time. Unfortunately, they leave it up to the reader, or the voter to figure out how tobacco use costs the state, not the user, so much money.

Additionally, even if tobacco use magically costs the state so much, a tax is not going to reduce the health care costs at all. In fact, it will likely increase them.

It’s plausible to suggest that the costs incurred by the state for tobacco use stem from two causes: State sponsored and initiated anti-tobacco education, and medical bills incurred by tobacco users who cannot afford their doctor bills. (I could rant about that conundrum, but I’ll save it for another piece.)

Because it’s largely educational, I don’t have anything against the state’s anti-tobacco campaign. That is, until the want to raise taxes for it. For either consideration, though, once the state increases the tax on tobacco, ideally, the budget for health care related costs incurred by tobacco use will also increase. That money will not be given back to the tax payers. It’s the way government works, duh!

Besides, if it were somehow returned to the tax payers, it should only be given to the tobacco users from whom it was taken in the first place!

The Shill

Proponents claim:

A tobacco tax can be seen as a type of user's fee... where the burden generated by the use of the product is more significantly offset by increased revenues. The current cost to Medicaid of tobacco use in Idaho is $83 million a year.
In this budget climate where money simply doesn’t exist to cover all Idaho Medicaid demands, new revenue could be used to pay for tobacco prevention/cessation programs & Medicaid programs because:

o Every state that has significantly increased its cigarette tobacco tax has enjoyed substantial increases in revenue, even while reducing smoking.

o These funds have helped states balance budgets and fund essential services like health care and tobacco prevention programs.

o Contrary to tobacco industry arguments, cigarette tax increases are a reliable source of revenue. Higher cigarette taxes also save money by reducing smoking-caused health care costs.

How stupid do Idahoans have to be to buy this swill? Hmmm. Let’s make it sound like something other than a tax by telling Idahoans they can think of it as a user’s fee. Yep, that will guarantee its passage because everybody knows how stupid Idahoans are. No matter how much you dumb it down, it’s still a tax, and I’ve already explained with simple reasoning how there will not be an offset of increased revenues.

Next comes an observation of the obvious: Medicaid is in trouble. You don’t suppose an excess of national spending has anything to do with that, do you! On this principle alone, Idahoans should reject this tax increase. If it goes through with this as a goal, The United States, not Idaho, will be asking tobacco users in Idaho to subsidize a bankrupt entitlement program.

If you want to fix Medicaid, get it away from the federal government completely then bring it to Idaho where we will look it over and fix what is wrong with it, but don’t force Idaho to subsidize any more federal ponzi schemes.

The first bullet point is a weak argument. Of course states that raise a tobacco tax enjoys substantial increases in revenue. They’re taxing their citizens! But, the real question is in the second half: “even while reducing smoking.” Yeah, by how much and how large was the population of each state cashing in on one segment of their population?

The second bullet point is even weaker still. Any legislative action using a balanced budget as a selling point in Idaho is missing a critical piece of information. Idaho’s Constitution requires that the state maintain a balanced budget which makes promoting a balanced budget a moot point.

On the last bullet point, I declare emphatically that I am not a smoker, nor do I work for a tobacco company. I simply see this tax as a blatant affront to Idahoans throughout the state.

We don’t need to raise taxes. We need to cut spending then manage the budget even better than it has been recently.