The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of The Davis Clipper.
Some 400 years ago, a French writer described the art of taxation as “plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the smallest amount of hissing.”
In Utah, taxes are as popular as Nancy Pelosi and the ACLU. Yet, there is little hissing about taxation when it comes to “sin taxes”, especially the tax on cigarettes. While I’m not opposed to the current smoking-related taxes, I remain a little queasy about the concept.
Increasing taxes on cigarettes undoubtedly reduces smoking. A USA Today survey this month showed that more than doubling the U.S. cigarette tax in 2009 has contributed to three million less Americans smoking today. The tax increase wasn’t the sole cause, but 55 percent of the cost of a pack of Marlboros is now a tax. Yesterday a man bought two cartons of name-brand smokes at a Davis County convenience store; the cost was $114, a sum which would take a bite out of most of our paychecks.
Not surprisingly, teen smoking dropped in three years to 13 percent (and about half that in Utah). Even teens who think it is “cool” to smoke figure putting gas in the car and wearing “hip” clothing is more of a priority than buying a pack of Winstons.
Health experts justify cigarette taxes as an approach to reducing overall health care expenditures. A reduction in smoking benefits Medicaid costs since the poor are some of the biggest users of tobacco. But all of us should see the potential abuse of government using taxes to direct our consumption of legal products.
What’s to stop the government from taxing whole milk and soda pop to improve American diets? At what point does a “sugar epidemic” create special taxes on Milky Way bars and Red Vines? Gee, if animal activists ever got their way we would see an enormous tax on furs and leather shoes!
Today less than one in five Americans smokes cigarettes, a historic low. You can’t argue with the taxman’s success.
But there are other approaches I find more palatable. A recent edition of Utah Business magazine noted that one Salt Lake County company established a new policy at the beginning of the year: In order to keep their jobs, all employees would have to be tobacco-free, even on their own time. One person quit the company; many others simply quit smoking, thanks to a program in which the company held five one-hour meetings weekly providing the tools to effectively give up tobacco.
For more information check out the Sept.20 edition of Davis Clipper.