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.