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4/2/2009
FIRST, THEY CAME FOR THE SMOKERS
CATEGORY: History, Politics

President Obama sorta fibbed a little when he promised that no one who made less than $250,000 a year would have their taxes raised. But that’s OK because the people he decided to raise taxes on are the minority that almost everyone - liberals, conservatives, Nazis, Communists, Greens, and your local Community Improvement Association - loves to gang up on.

I am talking about smokers, of course.

The largest increase in tobacco taxes took effect despite Obama’s promise not to raise taxes of any kind on families earning under $250,000 or individuals under $200,000.

This is one tax that disproportionately affects the poor, who are more likely to smoke than the rich.

To be sure, Obama’s tax promises in last year’s campaign were most often made in the context of income taxes. Not always

“I can make a firm pledge,” he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

He repeatedly vowed “you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime.”

Now in office, Obama, who stopped smoking but has admitted he slips now and then, signed a law raising the tobacco tax nearly 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes, to $1.01. Other tobacco products saw similarly steep increases.

The extra money will be used to finance a major expansion of health insurance for children. That represents a step toward achieving another promise, to make sure all kids are covered.

That federal tax increase is added on to the three state tax increases over the last 14 months that have been enacted here in Illinois. The price of a carton for my brand has gone up nearly $13 during that time and has doubled in the last 5 years. Some of that price increase is the result of cigarette manufacturers being under attack in the courts as they pass along those costs of doing business to the consumer. But taxes make up around 75% of the cost of a carton of cigarettes - more in some states. It is by far and away the most popular tax at all levels of government because it affects a relatively small percentage of the population. Around 20% of the US population smokes, down from half in 1960 which was right before the first Surgeon General’s report linking smoking and lung cancer.

Trashing smokers is so easy, so empowering on so many levels that mental health professionals should be concerned about the day that there are literally no more smokers - at least none who will puff in public.The resulting loss in self esteem for busy bodies who feel compelled to demonstrate their moral superiority by criticizing total strangers for their personal life choices might cause an epidemic of clinical depression cases.

There is no human activity save smoking (except perhaps having sex in public) that empowers people to tell a total stranger how he should live his life. Not many would walk up to the morbidly obese and tell them to quit eating so much. Few would stand at the door of a McDonald’s and rail against people walking in for eating unhealthy food. And I have never had the experience of someone standing in the snack aisle at the grocery store and telling me to save myself and stop eating Fritos.

Smoking truly brings out the nanny in most non-smokers. Worst of all are former smokers who are not only imbued with a nauseating self-righteousness that manifests itself in the way these former addicts chastise the smoker for their “weakness” (thus intimating the quitter has superior strength of character) but are near hysterical in their zealotry if you come within 10 feet of their person and start to puff away - even if you’re outside.

Thanks to the very questionable science that has been used to justify limiting exposure to any secondhand smoke, the fear and paranoia that has been drummed up by the government and health advocates has resulted in the most extraordinary personal restrictions placed upon smokers, turning them into modern day lepers.

No doubt that for many people, second hand smoke is bothersome and even unhealthful which is reason enough to ban smoking in the workplace, and most indoor businesses. But it is demonstrably untrue that exposure to secondhand smoke outdoors is dangerous nor can most of the studies showing that any exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to cancer or heart disease be trusted.

Most people would be surprised to learn that almost as many government funded studies on the effects of second hand smoke show no correlation with diease as posit a connection:

The WHO’s World No-Tobacco day web site lists, “Comprehensive Reports on Passive Smoking by Authoritative Scientific Bodies.” The listed reports include the 1986 reports from the Surgeon General and National Research Council, the 1993 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and two late-1990s reports from the California EPA.

For those unfamiliar with the reports, the list appears formidable. Otherwise, it’s just disingenuous.

The 1986 reports by the NRC and Surgeon General concluded secondhand smoke was a risk factor for lung cancer. But of the 13 studies reviewed, 7 reported no link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer. Given the statistical nature of these studies, this split in results is precisely what one would expect if no true link existed.

Neither report produced much progress for anti-smoking activists. So they convinced the EPA to pick up the gauntlet.

Thirty-three studies on secondhand smoke had been completed by 1993. More than 80 percent of the studies reported no association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer, including the largest of the studies. The EPA reviewed 31 studies - inexplicably omitting two studies reporting no association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer - and estimated secondhand smoke caused 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually.

Under the stewardship of the anti-tobacco Clinton administration, secondhand smoke hysteria caught fire.

Repeat: These were studies funded by various federal and state agencies and not the tobacco industry. And most found no link between cancer and second hand smoke. But, since the Clinton Administration decided to politicize the results, we ended up with this mad rush to trample the rights of smokers.

So what of those studies that did indeed, posit a link to cancer from secondhand smoke? Here’s a take on the “methodology” used:

Lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases develop at advancing ages. Estimating the risk of those diseases posed by secondhand smoke requires knowing the sum of momentary secondhand smoke doses that nonsmokers have internalized over their lifetimes. Such lifetime summations of instant doses are obviously impossible, because concentrations of secondhand smoke in the air, individual rates of inhalation, and metabolic transformations vary from moment to moment, year after year, location to location.

In an effort to circumvent this capital obstacle, all secondhand smoke studies have estimated risk using a misleading marker of “lifetime exposure.” Yet, instant exposures also vary uncontrollably over time, so lifetime summations of exposure could not be, and were not, measured.

Typically, the studies asked 60–70 year-old self-declared nonsmokers to recall how many cigarettes, cigars or pipes might have been smoked in their presence during their lifetimes, how thick the smoke might have been in the rooms, whether the windows were open, and similar vagaries. Obtained mostly during brief phone interviews, answers were then recorded as precise measures of lifetime individual exposures.

You could have gotten the same “scientific” results if you had used a Ouija board.

Again, let me stress that I believe smokers and non-smokers should generally be kept apart. I have no trouble at all honoring the request of people that I not smoke in their homes when I am a guest, not light up at a party, or even refrain from smoking in the presence of other people’s children. But the idea that the City of Chicago can ban me from smoking outdoors at a beach (in a designated area away from the crowds) or, as some municipalities want to do, ban smoking on your own property, or in your car, or in your own apartment, is so outrageously illiberal and undemocratic that it is time for smokers to wake up and begin to oppose these fascists and expose the real reason for their fanatical campaign against individuals who have made a choice they disagree with.

It’s not about health. It’s about control.

The various temperance movements in the 19th and early 20th centuries had little to do with the dangerous health and societal effects of drinking and everything to do with controlling the lives of recent immigrants. Not only did the city fathers who backed most of the temperance efforts in their towns want the immigrant workers showing up on the job clean and sober, but the taverns and neighborhood bars where recent arrivals did their drinking were social centers as well. Here, the immigrants were exposed to dangerous ideas like unions, democracy, voting rights, tenant rights, and other notions that did not fit in with the upstanding protestant “work ethic” community leaders were seeking to imbue in recent arrivals. In this way, banning the sale of alcohol was a way to control their workforce - in ways that seem most unamerican today.

For the anti-smoking lobby, it is much simpler; the very human desire to dictate to another how to run their lives. All the rest is smoke and mirrors. For instance, smokers actually use fewer health resources over their lifetime than non smokers because they die earlier - much earlier. Smoking is not a “gateway drug” that leads the way to pot or heroin. The list of falsehoods, bad science, myths, and urban legends about smoking is about what you’d expect from a society that is seeking to alter the behavior of a small minority that, for various reasons, they wish to control. Similar campaigns dot our history from the hysteria surrounding the Salem witches (which was at least partly about a religious dispute in the town where there was a schism between believers) through the wild exaggerations about the dangers of pot claimed by government in the early 20th century (a result of it being seen as a “black” drug). The urge for control of another by dictating what amounts to personal choices has been a common theme in our history.

Why should the non-smoker care? Unless you believe the anti-smoking nannies will cease and desist their efforts at control once they have triumphed over smokers, then you should be concerned what target their eyes fall upon next. It may be something that you wouldn’t want to see stratospherically taxed or regulated beyond any reason. At that point, you very well may preach to me about the dangers of a government in the hands of people who are an anathema to personal liberty. And my question to you will be a pointed “Where were you when my rights were being gouged by these philistines?”

There is no doubt cigarettes are a dangerous product and should be kept out of the hands of children. But adults should be able to make their own decisions in this regard - and accept the consequences of that decision. It is no one’s business why I smoke, why I don’t quit, or even how much I spend on them or how many cigarettes I smoke every day. Those are personal questions that people who would never ask a non-smoker about a behavior they find troubling ask me all the time. I suspect that most smokers are getting sick of it too.

Just as we are sick and tired of being the first place politicians look to grab some extra loot from the taxpayer to fund their pet schemes. Given our status as less than citizens, any protest we make falls on deaf ears. There will be no tea parties put on by smokers (or non-smokers in solidarity with our plight) nor will there be any big name conservatives who will fight on our behalf. So be it. Driving smoking underground will only enrich criminals while making the world a more dangerous place because instead of Al Capone selling beer and liquor you may find yourself responsible for an Osama wannabe who funds his terrorist operations through the sale of illegal cigarettes.

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

By: Rick Moran at 10:29 am
20 Responses to “FIRST, THEY CAME FOR THE SMOKERS”
  1. 1
    c3 Said:
    1:17 pm 

    Though I’m a physician and have generally been sympathetic tobacco taxation, I agree that its an easy and overused target for generating revenue. I do have one question though. You stated “adults should be able to make their own decisions in this regard - and accept the consequences of that decision. “. Does that apply to health care coverage. A long-term smoker will clearly incur significant and costly medical expenses as a result of smoking effects. Should the government (via Medicare or Medicaid) or a private employer (via an employer-sponsored health plan) not have payment responsibility for smoking-related illness care?

  2. 2
    Sirius Said:
    1:29 pm 

    A federal government bent on controlling the most trivial aspects of the lives of ordinary people and ambulance chasers more than willing to do its bidding - they won’t stop until we bring back tarring and feathering.

  3. 3
    busboy33 Said:
    1:31 pm 

    For an entertaining passive-aggressive FU to the ninnies,walk around buildings with an unlit smoke in your mouth. People will rush to you to clarify that there is no smoking allowed in the building, and when you agree and point out that there is in fact no smoke, they get very upset. They’re still sure you’re doing something wrong, but they’re just not sure what.
    Stunbled on this when I used the unlit smoke trick to at least take the oral fixation aspect cravings off when I was stuck at work and couldn’t sneak out. Happily, it turned out to be a great way to annoy those I wanted to annoy.
    Virtual 100% success rate. Rational people will look, notice there is no smoke or ember, then go about their day. Ninnies will push old ladies down the stairs in their desperation to be the first to lecture you. And the confused, accusatory glare when they realize you’re not breaking any rules and don’t care what they think . . . ah, priceless. Almost makes up for not being able to smoke in my office.

  4. 4
    Wramblin' Wreck Said:
    1:51 pm 

    c3 — “A long-term smoker will clearly incur significant and costly medical expenses as a result of smoking effects. ”

    Yes that may be true but these effect may also be due to diet (trans fats, cholesterol, LDL, etc.), exercise (or lack thereof, e.g., TV, video games, etc.) poor air quality (free-radical hydrocarbons from automobile catalytic converters,) poor water quality (chlorination of trace hydrocarbon contaminants in water, etc.) and genetics.

    Where do you draw the line? Who gets taxed how much and for what activity to pay for the health insurance? Here is an idea. Why not legally disallow health insurance altogether. If you get sick you pay out of your own pocket the costs to heal the damage. Many potential benefits for this idea.

    If you know that you will need $100k of medical treatments later, maybe you won’t start smoking. If you know that that McDonald’s hamburger could cost you a double bypass, you might think twice before ordering.

    It would also help to streamline the medical services. No more insurance forms, justifications, etc. Therefore lower costs. Plus, the law of supply and demand will work once again. Competition. There is no incentive today. Therefore the hospitals can charge your insurance company $30 for an aspirin (true!!).

    In 1954 the hospital charge my parents $235.80 for my birth. That included all doctor’s fees, medicines, etc. The hospital expected my parents to pay this amount and they did. No lawyers, government accountants, insurance agents or collection agencies were needed.

    Why can’t something like this work today?

  5. 5
    Michael Reynolds Said:
    1:52 pm 

    Rick:
    You cigarette smokers are weak immoral fools. Why can’t you see the light and take up cigars?

  6. 6
    Lars Said:
    1:52 pm 

    Smokers, jokers, doesn’t matter. When a Democrat talks about taxes, regardless of the words spoken, the real message is “Pay up Suckers”.
    Maybe John Galt can help.

  7. 7
    bsjones Said:
    1:58 pm 

    busboy33,

    keep fighting the good fight.

  8. 8
    illinois conservative Said:
    2:34 pm 

    I am not a smoker, but I agree with your post. I am tired of the anti-smoking Nazi’s. I find it offensive that if you own a bar or restaruant and want to allow smoking, that you can’t just allow smoking because a non smoker wants to come to your restaurant, but does not like smoking.

    According to the WHO there is no proven link between second hand smoke and increased risk of disease.

  9. 9
    Hugh Larious Said:
    2:39 pm 

    @Wramblin’ Wreck:

    I don’t think paying 100% for your own medical bills will work. It would work great for small procedures, maybe a broken bone, flu care, small dental work, etc. What happens when a major 3 car wreck happens on the freeway? Make the person who caused it pay for everyone? What if they don’t have enough money? So now the cost goes to the people who weren’t at fault. But again, say that person doesn’t have enough money…who pays the rest of that bill? A payment plan? What if you are paying a mortgage, car note, medical expenses for your kids (because they get into all sorts of trouble – bicycle wrecks, falling out of trees, you name it), and you don’t make a lot of money…how do you go about paying for a large medical bill (for something that wasn’t even your fault)? Say medical costs were driven down - you would still run across high dollar procedures…ongoing cancer treatments…not for lung because now those people have to pay for their own…but say breast cancer – what adult decision did someone make in their life to be hit up with breast cancer later on or pancreatic cancer even. People wouldn’t have enough money for ongoing issues that weren’t their fault.

    Having to pay for insurance is not a bad thing - you average out the costs of expensive medical bills over a large group of people paying monthly premiums - basically an odds game. The problem is when you also include the costs of another large group of people who do not pay a monthly premium - the uninsured (Slight oversimplification of the problem - you are right that pricey healthcare is another issue too). Next thing you know my insurance company is getting charged $100 for a $1 arm sling just to make up for them not getting paid by someone else.

  10. 10
    Scrapiron Said:
    5:14 pm 

    For the sake of the childrens health care you must continue and even increase your smoking. To avoid a health care disaster with government run health care everyone must encourage their friends to take up smoking. Them folks making up to or over $60K per year can’t afford to pay for their childrens health care so smokers must do it.

  11. 11
    Surabaya Stew Said:
    5:26 pm 

    The (Anti)Anti-Smokers are fighting a losing demographic battle. As the current smokers die off, fewer young smokers are replacing them. I fully expect cigarette smoking to be 99% restricted to teenagers and 20-somethings in their “rebelling against stuff for a few years phase” by the time retirement rolls around for me. Perhaps cigars and pipes will have better luck holding out against the inevitable, but its not likely with tobacco taxes on the rise.

  12. 12
    JTK Said:
    7:43 pm 

    Has the tax on alcohol been raised as well ? It destroys more lives, marriages etc. And when was the last time someone smokinh while driven killed a car load full of folks because he smoked too much.

  13. 13
    Farmer Don Said:
    9:36 pm 

    Rick,
    You and your government agree that banks have to be saved.
    That costs money.
    Taxes are going up.
    Get used to it.

  14. 14
    lionheart Said:
    11:37 am 

    You would be hard-pressed to somebody that is more in favor of individual liberties than me. However, here is my problem with smokers:

    1. A larger percentage of poor people smoke than affluent people. When these people get sick, Joe Taxpayer is stuck with the medical bill, and that pisses me off.
    2. Few people would wad up a McDonalds wrapper and throw it out the window while driving- most people are appalled at such behavior. But many smokers act like cigarette butts are not litter (based on personal experience of following cars with smokers at night- its easy them fling them out the window). Not only does that introduce litter, it has been responsible for many, many wildfires, and probably lives lost. That pisses me off.
    3. Finally, while you honor other people’s wishes to not smoke in their presence, many smokers (also based on personal experience), act as if their personal liberty trumps my personal liberty- and that pisses me off.

    So, while I am very sympathetic to any encroachment on your liberties, I understand people’s reluctance to support your position, based on (as a minimum) those 3 items above.

  15. 15
    MAS1916 Said:
    11:41 am 

    As they discovered in Oregon.. tax policy does in fact impact behavior. Taxing gasoline, encouraging use of hybrid cars and encouraging use of mass transit drove revenues from gas taxes down - leaving Oregon lefties looking for another way to get their people’s money. Now they are looking at a ‘mileage tax’ to keep the dollars coming in.

    Wonder what Obama will do here. He has to find another vice to tax. Perhaps he can tax use of the word ‘inherited.’

  16. 16
    Jack Diederich Said:
    12:26 pm 

    Have you read Jacob Sullum’s (of Reason mag) “For Your Own Good: The anti-smoking crusade and the tyranny of public health”? Ten years later it is still spot-on.

  17. 17
    USpace Said:
    12:47 pm 

    .
    The governments imposing these tobacco taxes are actually committing racist acts since most smokers are lower income, and many of them are minorities. Obama committed a racist act with this tax increase. Completely regressive. Why don’t they tax cigs $1,000 a carton?

    They don’t want all people to quit, just enough to toot their horns to justify their tyranny. They will still be able to rely on all those taxes continually coming in from the hardcore addicts, which at the increasingly obscene rates will easily make up the taxes lost from the small percentage of quitters.
    .
    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe says
    raise taxes on the poor

    tax cigs 300 percent
    hurt poor smokers the most

    .
    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe says
    create racist outcomes

    raise some taxes on the poor
    hurt minorities the most
    .

  18. 18
    parisdawg Said:
    9:10 pm 

    I don’t smoke but I don’t like the growing trend toward taxation. I’m not too concerned about it being a tax on the poor since for the most part they pay little,if any, Fed and State income taxes anyway, except for consumption taxes.
    Shouldn’t we promote smoking to keep the tax revenue up. So many programs are now dependent on the tobacco tax that we can’t afford to lose it. In this crazy scheme smokers should be applauded, not scolded.

  19. 19
    Matthew Said:
    10:10 am 

    As a pipe smoker, I applaud your blog here. Strangely enough, my tobacco is not taxed that much (I get mine as special blends for as little as $2.50/oz with much fewer chemicals which I enjoy immensely on weekends). My tobaccos are aromatic so people *actually* complement the smoke who would otherwise kick me to the curb with a cigarette or cigar (which I also enjoy at times). Other smokers’ reactions/analysis welcome.

  20. 20
    Pam Said:
    8:03 pm 

    There are people who don’t want to be seen as “busybody” or “nanny-ish”, so they justify their villification of smokers with the health-care argument. (Like the apparently perpetually pissed-off lionheart, who might want to consider a smooth Scotch and a cigar.)

    My problem with this attitude in general is that it puts everybody in some kind of pseudo-karmic debit column.

    How do I know all of the effects a person will wield in their life? Net positive? Net negative? For me, or someone else? How can I possibly know this?

    I can tell you this. If some lefty, pissed-off, chain-smoking person happened to be near by and, by the vagaries of chance, did something like save my kid’s life, what would I do? Bitch about his/her politics? Crab about their smoking? I think, rather, I’d be kissing that person’s feet.

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