Increased tax on tobacco would give smokers incentive to quit

When Bill McBride ran for Governor of Florida in 2002, he proposed to raise taxes imposed on tobacco products in order to finance public education. At the time, he was criticized for not sufficiently explaining how such a tax would be implemented. An even bigger objection was raised when it was questioned if such a tax would deter smokers from pursuing a habit that is detrimental to their health. After McBride lost to Jeb Bush, who was re-elected Governor, the idea passed into oblivion. Similar taxes imposed in Europe now show, though, that such a tax indeed pushes smokers to reconsider a possibly deadly habit.

The German paper Die Welt reported today that a nationwide study conducted by the government proved a tobacco tax imposed several years ago convinced 8 percent of tobacco consumers to quit entirely while 16.5 percent limited their consumption due to the increased cost of tobacco. The share of citizens who are habitual smokers also decreased from 37 percent in 1997 to 34 percent in 2003, a trend that seems to be holding. According to the study, 54 percent of smokers said they are reconsidering their habit due to the price hike.

There are, of course, other factors that play into this reduction. It is, for example, illegal to show commercials on TV and even in movie theaters that depict people smoking. The result is commercials that feature shots of masculine cowboys riding across the prairie followed by the slogan “come to where the flavor is,” which is still implying smoking “makes you cool.” The marketing blitz targeting potential smokers has been stemmed by banning what can be shown.

Since smoking is a habit that can be overcome and it is not a necessity, tobacco can be classified as a luxury. Not only that, it is also harmful to health. While warning of detrimental health effects on packages and in advertising is apparently not having much of an effect on people’s habits, a financial incentive apparently does.

Tobacco growers and other lobbyists are likely to fight any such tax in our own country. But as experiments in other countries have shown, such a tax would be very effective in giving smokers an incentive to quit.