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Bob Dickson: Time for the Boston Smoke Party

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: April 3, 2009 1:05 a.m.
Updated: April 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

On April 1, the federal sales tax on a pack of cigarettes jumped from 39 cents to $1.01, and the only part of it that makes any sense is the date on which this tax went into effect.

On April Fools' Day, our federal government again made fools of us all.

Perhaps you may take exception to my use of the "us" pronoun. You don't smoke, right? This form of government extortion doesn't concern you.

Well, I don't smoke either, but I can no more turn a blind eye to this new tax than I could step aside while someone races past with my neighbor's purse.

This new tax is about as fair as Uncle Sam shaking you down with a 50 percent tax for planting Bermuda grass while giving your neighbor a credit to plant Kentucky Blue. Call it what you want. - it's robbery.

And don't think it's going to stop with the feds. As you read this, our legislators in Sacramento are considering a proposal to saddle smokers with an additional tax of $1.50 per pack. That's an increase of $2.12 a pack in taxes alone to buy a pack of smokes!

The arguments proffered by cigarette extortion supporters are inane. Let's look at the two most common:

n We can use the taxes to pay for children's health care.

This is in fact the federal plan. We're going to use the estimated billions of dollars to pay for health care for children. For a moment let's ignore the obvious irony of depending on smokers to fund health care and just examine the statement at face value.

Who can argue with extending health care benefits to children, right? Who on Capitol Hill interested in a long political career would say no to that? But since when do even noble ends justify ignoble means?

Believe me, I can come up with a long list of noble ends (or ends I would consider noble). But they cease to be noble when the means needed to reach them are unfair. If we lose this moral compass - and maybe we already have - then what's to stop politicians from introducing any legislation that promises to help one group at the expense of another, especially if that other group is a 21st-century straw-man like cigarette smokers?

Who decides what groups gets the shaft? Why should one group have to carry such a disproportionate amount of weight anyway?

n Higher cigarette prices will encourage people to stop smoking.

This is laughable for several reasons, but I'll just examine two. First, let's assume what the federal money changers say here is true (and this is a huge assumption), that people who have refused to stop smoking in the face of cancer and other mortal diseases will finally abandon their addiction for financial reasons.

Once those people stop paying their additional $1.01 or $2.51 tax a pack, where will the government come up with the revenue to continue funding whatever health care programs they establish? Will said programs be dissolved? No. The government spending machine doesn't operate in reverse.

The second problem with point No. 2 is that it's fundamentally wrong. Since when does federal or state government have the power to wield taxes for the purpose of social engineering and behavior modification?

The answer is, of course, since it began collecting taxes. We get tax breaks for homeownership because the government wants a responsible workforce of mortgaged-out property owners. We enjoy tax breaks for being married because the government wants to encourage the familial and societal stability of that institution. The list goes on and on. This is nothing new.

But is it right?

If the government has the power to decide to target smokers with a truly unreasonable tax, why stop there? Tax gas guzzlers. Tax coffee drinkers. Tax insulin users. Some of that is happening already and more is on the way.

You don't smoke. I get it. But the precedent is set now. Sooner or later, your number will come up. And you know what? When that happens, I'll fight for you, too.

Bob Dickson, a 12-year Santa Clarita resident, is an award-winning journalist and former sports writer for The Signal. As the owner of Bob's Word Factory, he writes for TV, radio, and magazines, and has been published in two books. Bob is also an adjunct professor of writing at The Master's College. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of these organizations or those of The Signal. “Right Here, Right Now” runs Fridays in The Signal and rotates among local Republican writers.


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