Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Obama Breaks No Tax Pledge. I've A Better Idea.

Candidate Obama said he wouldn't raise taxes on anybody earning under $250,000 per year... but today President Obama signed a 62-cent-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes.

I know it can be argued that a sin tax isn't an income-specific (i.e. sub-250) tax: If Obama raised the gas guzzler tax so that buying a new Lamborghini was more expensive, anybody who buys a Lamborghini, whether they are earning 30 thousand or 30 million dollars per year has to pay it. But, how many people would argue against the fact that raising taxes on Lamborghinis effects almost exclusively people making more than $250K? Well, it has been demonstrated that cigarette taxes are a regressive tax almost exclusively borne by the poor: Rich people simply do not smoke much, just as poor people don't often buy Lamborghinis.

So: While President Obama could use semantics to claim that this isn't a tax increase on the sub-250 crowd, the fact is that in practice this a broken campaign promise.

Now, let me give you my position on this: If you are a smoker, you should not be eligible for free government health care when cigarettes finally put you in the hospital. Your choice to voluntarily engage in something that is almost certainly guaranteed to increase your healthcare burden should vitiate your ability to walk into a hospital with neither cash nor insurance and be treated for smoking-related health problems. You should have to live with your choice... and eventually suffer with your choice as well.

I see the cigarette tax as being sort of the same thing: Smokers with no health insurance are paying extra taxes to the government on the basis that they will eventually cost the government a certain amount of money through their habit. Unfortunately, this method catches up the many (majority of?) smokers who actually have health insurance, forcing them to pay the government for medical expenses they are able to cover responsibly on their own. (I'll leave out of the equation those smokers who have no insurance, but who have enough money in their bank accounts to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars to get medical treatment for emphysema and lung cancer; how many people can that be?) This tax therefore isn't fair to the smokers with health insurance.

So, my solution is this: If you can prove you have health insurance, you shouldn't have to pay the tax on cigarettes. Simple enough? As soon as you lose your health insurance, you start paying the tax. Get your health insurance back, stop paying again.

And, just for the record, I do smoke 1 or 2 cigarettes per day.


An interesting point at this link: Given that smokers die at a younger age, they participate much less in social security, Medicare and Medicaid than the average American. It's therefore possible that smokers, on average, are a net zero on expense to the government.


Anonymous said...

Your point about denying smokers health care (or stemming it) is a valid point.
However, would that same outlook apply to the millions of overweight (in reality-morbidly obese) citizens that uneededly tax the health care system with a buffet (pun intended) of health issues. Diabetes, Hypertension (Jil, you know the s/s as much as anyone due to your work)-and the sad thing is to see fat people's fat little kids.
Why not a junk food tax that puts the (fat) fast food chains out of business? Again, poor people would be affected more than the rich but hey- if they can't smoke, is it better to consume Big Mac's and Whoppers?

Jungle Jil said...

I can agree with that anon. My plan obviously isn't consistent or equitable and really wasn't meant to be. Your point could hold true for motorcycle riders, people who play sports, drug users and alcohol drinkers, or people who have unprotected sex.

Life in general is a health risk, but cigarettes are obviously the most consistently risky, while providing the least benefit to life out of all of those things.