Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Big Tobacco and Big Government: Both Taking Advantage of Cigarette Addiction

Thanks to a recent spam phone call and a brief monologue delivered by a man who sounded like he'd been smoking two packs an hour since he was 7, I've recently become aware that the Massachusetts State House will soon be voting on a measure that will raise the tax on cigarettes to $3.51 a pack. This is an increase of $1. And it, coupled with a 3 cent per gallon tax increase on gasoline, will help generate $500 million in revenue. This money will be used to fund "transportation improvements" such as paying for the MBTA's annual losses.

Health enthusiasts might love this tax increase. These vice taxes are always sold as efforts to improve general health and welfare.

Except they're not. We can argue about the merits and effects of such taxes, but one disturbing, disgusting fact tarnishes them. They are solely an effort to raise revenue. The motivation isn't health, it's dollars. The Government is doing exactly what Big Tobacco does: They're making money by charging people more for an addictive product. Marlboro and Massachusetts, using the same business model.

How is that right?

And the money raised by these taxes doesn't go to reduce tobacco addiction, or to pay for the healthcare of smokers. If tobacco tax increases were balanced with increased tax credits for nicotine patches, gums, and addiction support groups, then the health aspects of tobacco taxes would be valid reasons to support them. But credits don't raise money for the Government.

There would be logic to tobacco taxes if they paid for the increased cost in healthcare that smokers cause. Instead, the extra $1 that John Q. Smoker will pay for his pack of Marb Reds will pay the MBTA's inability to support itself.

Instead of trying to help people quit smoking, let's take their money. And instead of trying to fix the MBTA's problems, let's just have smokers pay for them.

And Governor Patrick doesn't want to stop the taxes there. Taking a cue from the colonial Governors that were in office before the British evacuated Boston, Patrick wants to raise even more money for a number of pet projects. He wants to replace part of I-91. With all apologies to Springfield and Western MA, who cares about I-91? Is it a priority? Is that really where our money needs to go to? And he has an even grander scheme to expand the commuter rail. Railroad expansion drove the economy back in 1850, why not now in 2013? And seeing as the MBTA is already operating at a deficit, maybe we shouldn't add to their costs and responsibilities. Especially since Deval's plan would cost upwards of $3 billion.

We have, in Massachusetts and in the nation, governments that do not spend responsibly. They extract money from us every day, and we painfully give it up. Every hour we work, every gallon of gas we use to get to work, every item we buy. The Government takes what we strive for, study for, work our asses off for, and throws it around like confetti. They spend on everything and anything they want. Governments have the luxury and the power to take what they want from us. Until we don't let them. Until we demand Governments that spend responsibly.

Unfortunately, the politician who promises more services and benefits will always defeat the politician who promises less. And as long as the Government focuses its tax increases on isolated and specialized groups like smokers, gun owners, and the rich, most people won't bat an eye.

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