There will be a referendum on the ballot in November to raise the cigarette tax in Missouri 80¢/pack, with the money going towards anti-tobacco programs and replacing the health care money that was cut out of the state budget last year.
As a non-smoker, you’d think I’d be behind this, since it would be for a good cause and wouldn’t cost me a cent. Wrong.
This is nothing more than another Sin Tax — the government punishing people for legal behavior it disapproves of — and it’s wrong. But would it work? Yesterday on my show, I asked listeners who smoked if the price increase would make them stop, and the vast majority said no. Even ex-smokers agreed that the reason most people stop is medical, not financial.
While there is certainly a need to repair the Medicare cuts in Missouri, that should not be on the back (or the lungs) of smokers alone. If it’s a good idea that we subsidize health care, then we should all chip in our fair share. Yes, smoking does cause some of those problems, but Medicare patients come from many different causes, and it’s not reasonable to levy an extra tax on just one group. Next thing you know, someone will argue that since obesity is a “medical crisis,” we must tax ice cream and cheeseburgers and put that money into healthy-eating classes.
Part of the push by those behind this referendum is to teach kids not to smoke. That’s an admirable goal, but it’s already being accomplished without more government intervention. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the number of Missourians under 21 who smoke has been cut in half in the last decade, and the number of high school students who smoke is well below the national average. All that without increasing the cigarette tax.
Bottom line: if a program is worthy of statewide support, we should all contribute to its success. We should not dump our social expenses on smokers — many of whom are low-income already, making this a regressive tax — just because we disapprove of their habit.