Poor tax

A Los Angeles Times editorial urges a vote against proposition 86 on the California ballot, saying:

Low-income Californians are much more likely to be smokers, and as a group they spend a lot more on cigarettes than the wealthy as a percentage of their income. One recent analysis of U.S. Census data found that tobacco taxes take a 50-times-larger share of income from those earning less than $20,000 than those earning more than $200,000. That makes cigarette taxes the most regressive way of funding state government programs.

This argument assumes that anyone, poor or not, has the right to assault others around them by polluting the air. The editorial dismisses medical evidence of harm done by second-hand cigarette smoke using economic arguments. “Over the last 15 years,” says the editorial, “evidence has accumulated showing smokers hardly cost society more than anyone else. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies throughout the 1990s from economists such as Harvard’s Kip Viscusi and Willard Manning Jr. from the University of Chicago demonstrate conclusively that nearly all the costs of smoking — healthcare, higher insurance premiums, lower productivity at work — are borne by smokers themselves.”

The one argument that does make sense is the possibility that this will encourage a black market in cigarettes: “Punitive approaches such as higher cigarette taxes don’t make smokers quit. They cause smokers to buy tax-free cigarettes on military bases, Indian reservations and over the Internet. Even with today’s 87-cent tax, the California Board of Equalization says about 300 million untaxed packs of cigarettes are sold in the state each year — a figure that will boom if Proposition 86 passes.” This argument assumes that the state should acquiesce to smokers, condoning their assault on others, in order to ensure that smokers will continue to pay their cigarette taxes.

At convenience stores, one can see the anti-proposition 86 forces at work, threatening a $2.60 per pack increase. To me, that alone, is a reason to support this initiative.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.