One week ago today, I quit smoking cigarettes. That’s wonderful right? Wrong. Well it is wonderful. We all know that smoking leads to lung cancer and that lung cancer leads to death. I liked to smoke though. Genuinely enjoyed almost every single cigarette I’ve ever had. When I was young I remember watching peoples’ faces cringe as they plugged their nose when they saw or smelled a smoker. To fit in, I remember doing the same. I also remember secretly loving the smell. I had no problem with it whatsoever. It smelled tasty. I also like the smell of gasoline. Whatever this means about me, I don’t know. I do know, however, that I like what I like.

So why quit? Anyone who smokes knows exactly why. I walked in to my local Shell convenience store with a five dollar bill and a quest for cigarettes. I asked for a pack of Marlboro 27’s. When he rang them up I could not believe my ears. I used my eyes to glance up at the register. I now believed my ears. Five dollars and fifty cents for twenty cigarettes. I walked out to my car to dig through my change for a couple of quarters. After having bought them, I resolved to never buy another pack again. And I haven’t.

But wait there’s more. At the time, for whatever reason, I had not given the price increase much thought. Later I ran in to some smoker friends who brought the subject up. They told me that the state of California had raised the tobacco tax. That made sense, I thought, but I had to look into it further. It turns out that the tax was federal and would not go into effect until April 1st. This left me puzzled but a bit more of googling gave me the answer I desired. The tobacco companies had raised the price in anticipation of the new tax. This meant the price would increase once more on April 1st. By my estimation, smokers will be paying at least six bucks for every pack of cigarettes they smoke. That’s why I quit, but this isn’t about me.

Here’s we’re things get dicey. We’re I get to my point. Or points. Probably points.

The absolute largest demographic of smokers is that of low-income households (Don’t believe me? Check here ). As income increases, tobacco use decreases. Now, certain crazy (I italicize crazy because if they are crazy I am a crazed maniac) people have proposed new taxes on obviously superfluous things. Things like private jets, yachts, oversized mansions, swimming pools, luxury cars, etc. I have heard no news of the success of such proposals. I have, though, noticed a federal tax increase of tobacco. I understand. The economy is flailing. Failing too. The world is ending, Jesus is coming. We need to raise money somehow. In their strategy to raise this money, our leaders answered this rhetorical question. Should we increase the taxes of the rich or of the poor? They answered the poor. Let me push my point further.

The tobacco industry is one of the few strong industries the United States has left. A federal increase of the tobacco tax will inevitably harm the tobacco companies. I have quit and I’m sure many others will follow. In the current economic environment, I believe an increased tobacco tax will be more likely to hurt than help us in the long run. What do I know though? I should sit and twiddle my thumbs while Obama’s thumb twiddling economic advisors take care of me.

Now now, I know. Smoking is bad. It’s good that I have quit and that others have quit. I beg you, for just one moment, to forget this fact. Forget that smoking is bad and that you detest it. That is not what is in question here. The question we should all pose to ourselves is, “Do our political representatives more strongly favor the rich or the poor?” The answer is obvious. I did not write this short opinion piece to prove that point. It has already been done. Nothing more can be expected in a free market economy.

This is not a defense of tobacco in any way, shape, or form. It's overall damage to society makes it worthy of taxation. My argument is in no way hinging upon proving the opposite. I am only remarking on the fact that something like tobacco, used primarily by the lower class, was one of the first things to receive a tax increase during this economic crisis. Then again, I'm sure some would have us believe that the United States is a classless nation and that everyone gets everything they deserve based on how hard they work. There is no use in arguing colors with the blind.

My purpose in writing this was only the illumination of yet another example. A current event to remind us all that Uncle Sam does not love us. I’ll leave you to make your own judgment, as I know you surely will.

I am glad to have quit smoking. Really. I am not glad to have been forced to quit smoking.

On April 1, 2009 the U.S. Federal excise tax on cigarettes will increase from US$0.39 to US$1.01 per packet of 20. In addition, individual states impose excise taxes ranging from US$0.07 in South Carolina (although there is a movement in 2009 to increase this by US$0.50) to US$2.575 per pack in New Jersey, with a median state tax of US$1.00 on January 1, 2008. The main reason cited for governments imposing taxes on cigarettes is to offset the costs to society of cigarette smoking.

That cigarette smoking is hazardous is indisputable. U.S. manufacturers have admitted as much, and have settled lawsuits based on years of misleading advertising by paying billions in reparations. The societal costs of smoking are based on analyses of health care costs, increased insurance rates and lost productivity due to illness and early death.

A life cycle analysis of the actual cost of cigarette smoking was described in The Price of Smoking, a book by Duke University health economists published in 2004. According to their analysis, the actual cost of smoking to the individual smoker, their family, and to the society at large comes to approximately US$40 per pack. This amount includes the cost of the cigarettes, taxes, life and property insurance, health care costs for the smoker and the smoker's family and lost productivity due to disability. Of this, the smoker pays about US$33, leaving a burden of about US$7 to be paid by others.

Interestingly, the extra cost to society for individual smokers only amounts to about US$1.44 per pack - when the cost to the smokers' families are not factored in. This is because of savings to private pensions, Social Security and Medicare due to premature death. This amount is offset by the excise taxes to be enacted, however the remaining costs still must be borne by the society as a whole. These numbers indicate that, at least in 2004 numbers, the additional excise tax above current levels should be increased by about US$5.66 per pack to cover all the costs.

To argue that the cost of taxes is inordinately paid by lower income people neglects to consider that society bears a higher cost for this demographic because they are less likely to have access to health insurance, are likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, and a greater portion of their care will be paid by government agencies. Ironically, this is the main point in this article by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids which is cited as the basis for the "onerous burden on the poor" argument.

Starting smoking is a choice. Quitting smoking is a very difficult task. Increasing the cost of cigarettes to more closely reflect the true cost to society does not "force" anyone to quit smoking. It forces them to make an economic choice as to whether they are willing to pay the true cost of their habit, or would rather spend their money on something else.


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