Cigarette tax is not the right fix

It has been proven that smoking can lead to heart disease, lung cancer and many other debilitating illnesses. The personal grief suffered by loved ones is immeasurable, and according to the Florida Department of Health, the state spends more than $6.3 billion a year on tobacco-related health care costs.

An increased consciousness regarding the health effects of smoking intertwined with Hollywood style cover-ups by the tobacco industry led to a powerful anti-smoking
sentiment in the U.S. In response to reduced state revenue, Florida legislators recently enacted a tax increase of $1 per pack of cigarettes.

“There are 5 million people living today who will die prematurely because they use tobacco,” said Sen. Ted Deutch, one of the tax bill’s sponsors, to the Miami Herald. “Tobacco is absolutely a choice. The consequences of that should not be foisted upon the citizens of this state.”

Deutch and others supporting this bill believe they are acting in the best interest of their constituents. They must not understand that tobacco use is simply a reality among many populations. The additional burden may seem minute on the surface but it has far-reaching consequences.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported that in 2006 the poorest
taxpayers in Florida spent 0.4 percent of their income on cigarette taxes, 10 times what the wealthiest Floridians paid. This occurred while the state tax on cigarettes was merely 33.9 cents a pack, and the federal tax on cigarettes was only 40 cents a pack.

Not only is the state government raising the state tax to a total of $1.33, the federal government recently raised their tax on cigarettes from 62 cents a pack to $1.01 a pack. Thus, a pack of cigarettes such as 305s that typically sells for $2 may cost more than $4.

Even with the most basic understanding of economics it can be understood that flat taxes greatly favor the affluent and hinder the impoverished. This concept is further exaggerated when a flat tax is aimed at the lower income bracket.

A tax leveled on cigarettes likely would not have passed if taxable revenue was not lost as a result of the Wall Street and housing market collapse, combined with Bush era tax cuts. The individuals responsible for this loss of tax revenue show no signs of being consistent smokers, as this higher income bracket rarely does. Why are those who smoke cigarettes, then, being held responsible for replacing this lost revenue?

The increased tax is still nothing more than a temporary fix — it may work in the short term, but it cannot cure the problem. This tax is sure to discourage smoking, as it will be the final incentive to quit for many, but this will diminish the tax’s effectiveness. As more continue to quit and fewer take up smoking, there will be less revenue and the budget issue will merely be passed on to another generation of legislators.

A reorganization of private, profit-based health care and insurance systems could easily trim unnecessary expenses and make health care affordable far more effectively than simply taxing smokers.

Moreover, this is another example of a parental mentality in our government. Americans are told from birth that they live in a land where they are free. They recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national anthem as children, believing that they are allowed to do whatever they want as long as it does not hurt anyone else.

Secondhand smoke is toxic, and exposing others to it is rude and inconsiderate, but everyone has his or her own release — whether it’s yoga, walking the dog, playing video games or going shopping — and smokers already face restrictions to limit their effect on nonsmokers. It may seem strange to many, but a cigarette is an easy vice that keeps many individuals complacent with their state in life. One can only imagine what is going to happen once many smokers cannot even afford a smoke.

Justin Rivera is a senior majoring in history.