Cigarette tax to control behavior of minority is unconstitutional

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:05 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The applause meter for the federal government tripling the excise tax on a package of cigarettes is off the chart in many circles as its two-fold intent – funding children’s health care and slaying the evil tobacco dragon – is hard not to like. Smokers, or one in five Americans, are now social pariahs – ranking with big oil, SUV drivers, global warming skeptics, Wall Street Bankers, the wealthy 1 percent and former President Bush as resident malignancies by the enlightened majority.

I am not a smoker, having given up the noxious weed more than 40 years ago. I prefer a smoke-free atmosphere, detest littering by smokers, have little sympathy for addiction used as a crutch and consider it somewhat stupid to spend money to abuse one’s health. So, why do I find it necessary to defend a minority no one else seems to care about?

I choose to do so because, in spite of their minority status, annoying habits and disregard for their own personal health, they enjoy the same rights and privileges the Constitution avails to all. The full weight of government, abetted by a judgmental majority, should not be permitted to bully a segment of its citizens just because it can, the popularity of the action notwithstanding.

The notion of using the power of taxation to control or modify the behavior of a minority or to destroy a legitimate, revenue producing industry merely because "government knows best" should concern anyone who believes in the Constitution and individual freedoms. This is the epitome of arrogance in social engineering – majority acquiescence does not justify mob rule.

Citing funding for children’s health care as the primary justification is a poorly concealed effort to raise revenue on the backs of social lepers while simultaneously dealing a death knell to the tobacco industry. Nevermind that this tax will strike hardest at the poor – half of all smokers are low income and one half of those are officially “poor” — or that smugglers, counterfeiters and cash launderers will prosper as will organized crime and terrorist organizations. Do we consider targeting a minority unfairly and granting windfall profits to criminals as “collateral damage”?

I don’t question the good intentions underlying health and welfare issues but the road to you-know-where is often paved with those intentions as well as suffering their unintended consequences. Obviously, this magnum tax increase will adversely affect cigarette sales – reduced smoking will cause a concomitant reduction in tax revenues.

While tripling the excise tax will effectively raise revenue at the federal level, distressed cigarette sales will reduce the taxes collected by the states. According to the National Tax Foundation, 2008 receipts by state governments were 15.4 billion dollars – New York, Texas, California, Pennsylvania and Michigan each reaped in an excess of $1 billion. Decreased demand will also cut deeply into the revenue of the four Piedmont states and Georgia, which represent 87 percent of national tobacco production.

Another economic impact of the tobacco industry is the number of jobs it supports. Many southern counties depend on tobacco as a substantial share of income while the American Economics Group and the Tobacco Merchants Association have identified at least 1.8 million jobs as tobacco related. If one can look beyond the two polarizing differences – the utter unfairness of the tax as opposed to the benefits from a smoke free society – an economic recession is hardly a propitious time to add to the ranks of the unemployed or to cut billions from state revenues. Whatever happened to “It’s the economy, stupid”?

Finally, when it becomes apparent that “Big Tobacco” is down for the count, where do we find the funds to continue the cigarette tax support for children’s health care? Facing the death throes of the “goose that laid the golden egg,” does Congress do an about-face and initiate a “light up for the children” campaign to restore the source?

Or, more predictably, Congress, abetted by a cash-starved administration, might look elsewhere for “sin appropriate” tax levies. Look to such lucrative cash cows as cheeseburgers and other fast foods, red meats, and sweets – their demise long the goal of the food police. Adult beverages, gasoline, soft drinks, automobiles larger than lawn tractors, more than one child per family, barbecue grills, coal-fired energy and guns/ammunition have all acquired enemies among self-anointed judges of all that is bad.

And what is to deter amending identification of the "wealthy" from those earning $250,000 per year to say, $50 or even $40 thousand? Before dismissing these notions as impossible – the camel’s nose is already under the tent with the tripling of the cigarette tax – what is to keep the rest of the camel out?

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Jason Lockwood April 14, 2009 | 1:27 p.m.

Well said Karl.
-Semper Fi

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote April 14, 2009 | 2:42 p.m.

"Don't tread on me" certainly resonates with me in respect to government interference in the personal lives of citizens. That being said, the consumption of cigarettes has a negative impact on the health of those smoking as well as those in direct proximity. This in turn imposes its own "tax" on society in the form of decreased productivity and increased health care costs. It's rather difficult to estimate the exact cost, however analysis by the CDC suggests that "...each pack of cigarettes sold in this nation is costing over $7 in excess medical costs and lost productivity. It averages out to about $3,400 of excess costs per smoker per year."( Just as the government shouldn't interfere in the private legal activities of its citizens, the tax payers should not be forced to subsidize the true cost of a package of cigarettes. I think cigarettes should be taxed equal to the amount of decreased productivity + increased health care costs. Surely, Mr. Miller, you would agree that citizens are responsible for their own actions and should bear the full cost of their endeavors and not have their activities subsidized by the government.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr April 14, 2009 | 2:52 p.m.

Smoking Pot, Cigarettes Ups COPD Risk
Study Shows Higher Risk for the Lung Disease Among Smokers of Both Marijuana and Tobacco

People who smoke both cigarettes and marijuana have a greater risk for developing the progressive lung disease COPD than cigarette smokers who don't smoke pot, a new study shows.

Smokers in the study who reported using both tobacco and marijuana were three times as likely as nonsmokers to have clinically confirmed COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease); people who smoked only cigarettes had a slightly lower risk.

The study is among the first to suggest a synergistic relationship between marijuana and tobacco use among older people who are most at risk for COPD.

"This effect suggests that smoking marijuana may act as a primer, or sensitizer, in the airways to amplify the adverse effects of tobacco on respiratory health," says study researcher Wan C. Tan, MD, of the University of British Columbia and St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, Canada.

Source and More:

(Report Comment)
Rhonda Ferber April 20, 2009 | 12:21 a.m.

Oh, please!

The truth is that non-smokers generate more costs to society than smokers, due to the extra 10 or 15 years they collect Social Security and Medicare benefits, plus their propensity to end up in nursing homes paid for by Medicaid.

Here's an example. If not smoking adds 10 years to a person's life, and that person gets $1,200 a month in Social Security, the non-smoker will burden society with an extra $144,000 in Social Security pay-outs alone, not to mention all the Medicare prescriptions and hospital procedures they'll have during that time.

Non-smokers commonly suffer from multiple chronic health conditions in old age, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinsons, and other degenerative conditions, and they often spend a portion of their "golden years" in expensive assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Nursing homes cost $2,000-$5,000 per month, and that expense is often paid by Medicaid because the elderly patient is bankrupted by the cost.

Both smokers and non-smokers have end-of-life expenses, so it's not really logical to only count the smokers' end-of-life care, is it? If you'd do a little research, you'd see that several studies have shown the greater cost of non-smokers, but the media doesn't report that because it's not nice to make elderly non-smokers feel bad about the burden they are placing on society.

Do I sound harsh? Does it make you feel bad to hear about the burden non-smokers place on our health care system due to the fact that they linger on an extra 10-15 years? Well, now you know how smokers feel when they are constantly harassed about health care costs they generate.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr April 20, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.

Rhonda Ferber well by your thinking if we are to go by it then all people when they reach a certain age should just be Euthanized so nobody lives and takes up space then in society.

Wasn't there a movie about that long ago called Logan's Run?
There is also a new sequel scheduled for 2010.

(Report Comment)
marvin saunders April 20, 2009 | 5:02 a.m.

Charles like most of the time you missed Rhonda's whole point.We as smokers know smoking is bad for my health but that is My choice.We are sick and tried of people telling us.We would like places to go & drink,dance & enjoy life without non smokers coming there & wanting to take over.She was just stating a fact that non-smokers cost more which is true.If everyone quit smoking watch taxes go up on everything else,they would have to make that money up some where.So all said leave us Alone

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr April 20, 2009 | 9:14 a.m.

marvin saunders no I did not miss her point at all but alot of people obviously miss the point that people are getting sick of smoke in their face or the smell of it on people's clothing near them too.

(Report Comment)
Rhonda Ferber May 27, 2009 | 11:58 p.m.

Let me clarify my position. I have devoted a major portion of the last 15 years of my life to elder care, so I believe that elderly people are well worth any expense involved in improving their quality of life. Most people are just not aware of how much it costs to get old in this society, and most people don't want to hear about the health care costs of the elderly because it's too depressing.

For example, most people don't realize that Medicare doesn't pay for extended nursing home care, and that lower and middle class people have to spend down their assets and then apply for Medicaid in order to pay for long term care. Furthermore, if Medicaid does pay for an elderly person's long term care, they are required by federal law to try to recover the money they spent from the elderly person's estate after they die. Often the elderly person is stripped of every penny they've earned over the whole course of their life.

This problem needs to be addressed soon because it could very well sink Medicare and Medicaid. Half the people who live past age 85 end up with Alzheimer's, and right now that age group is the fastest-growing age group in society. The costs associated with this disease are astronomical, but the general public just turns a blind eye to the situation.

It's difficult to sit back and be silent while everyone focuses all their attention on smoking-related illnesses, and just ignores the financial distress that so many families are experiencing as they try to take care of their aging family members. I think it's an urgent problem, and I just wish more people would pay attention to it instead of blaming tobacco for every known problem within the health care system.

(Report Comment)
Rhonda Ferber May 30, 2009 | 3:37 p.m.

If you are interested in learning more about relative health care costs, visit this link.

(Report Comment)
roy wallace September 22, 2009 | 7:05 a.m.

"marvin saunders no I did not miss her point at all but alot of people obviously miss the point that people are getting sick of smoke in their face or the smell of it on people's clothing near them too." - quoted

To sit there and state that smoking should be outlawed just because a non smoker might be annoyed by it is ridiculous. I'm annoyed by drunk drivers all the time..why aren't you attacking them?

I am generally annoyed by a non smoker spouting little facts and tidbits in my you hear me clamoring for a taxation on speech? How about the fact that most of these non smokers have smelly breath? Wear too much cologne/perfume/body spray? Don't bathe properly?

Me smelling like smoke is my choice, if you don't like it..get out of my face..problem solved. If you see a smoker, give a 2 foot berth so that the smoke isn't blown in your face...common sense can solve a lot of annoying problems.

Me smelling like cigarette smoke is my choice...I know it's bad for me..but I don't care..I only have one life, let me live it in peace...

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 22, 2009 | 8:47 a.m.

roy wallace your right to live in peace ends when I have to smell you in my face.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 22, 2009 | 11:29 a.m.

Out on the sidewalk, the park, or on someone's (other than yourself) private property, you would be incorrect.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 22, 2009 | 11:33 a.m.

John Schultz everybody is entitled to a "personal space zone" of sorts and things that are quite offensive coming into that zone do not have to be tolerated anywhere nor at any time.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 22, 2009 | 1:14 p.m.

So if I am standing on the sidewalk and you come up to me and start talking, I am entitled to ask you to stow it and make you be quiet? Somehow, I don't believe you would react in that manner.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 22, 2009 | 3:37 p.m.

No John Schultz you are entitled to ask me to be quiet and I in all politeness should be cordial enough to comply if I am out of line.

It is the same with smokers and non smokers.

John Schultz tell us all the real truth here: Just how long would you seriously want somebody standing next to you in a crowded area who seriously smelled of cigarette smoke so badly it irritated your sinuses to the point it made you either gag or develop a headache from the noxious fumes?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 22, 2009 | 3:55 p.m.

Chuck, if I am "entitled to a personal space zone" as you claim, why should I have to ask you to be quiet? You make it sound as if you think there is a right to not be offended or disturbed while you are in public.

If a person reeked of smoke or body odor or perfume or what have you, I have no right to make them move away from me and my nose unless I own that property or can convince the owner of that property to have the person removed. If I was next to someone of that ilk, I would move along somewhere less smelly because I cannot tell them it's me or them in that piece of property.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 22, 2009 | 4:29 p.m.

Well John Schultz by your above response then you might not be the type to actually stand your ground in certain instances then would you or at all.

The point is if somebody comes into your personal space when you are there just minding your own business then you do have the rights to speak up unless you are the kind of person who loves being pushed around and or walked on.

By all rights of human decency the one who invades that small personal space should move if asked too and if they do not then I will repeat the request in a more firmer tone of voice to get my point across.

I myself find it very very offensive when a heavy smoker invades my personal space and especially when their clothing smells of stale cigarette smoke and I am not to shy nor offended at all to ask them to please move or even to the extent to go tell them to wash their dam clothing and go get a shower.

I guess when you have lived in a jail cell environment you learn that your personal space is all you really have in life and you learn to value that space alot more and have more respect for that space to the point that you will not be afraid to tell somebody that smells to please step away from you.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 22, 2009 | 5:29 p.m.

There are more important things to stand one's ground over than smelly smokers.

You have the right to speak up when you think someone is in your so-called personal space, but you have no right to be respected, listened to, or for your wishes to be followed.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 22, 2009 | 7:11 p.m.

Relax, Chuck.

If you're doing well enough to be worrying about cigarette smell, than you're doing pretty well. Most of the world is more concerned about making a living, getting their next meal, or staying out of political prison, than being worried over a little cigarette smell.

It won't hurt you. Move on.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 23, 2009 | 4:57 a.m.

Ya Mark Foecking we should all want to inhale all of those noxious chemicals coming off peoples clothing and from their cigarettes with in our personal space.


Keep on breathing those noxious exhaust fumes while riding next to those big trucks and all of those cars that pass you as you ride your bike daily. They will help in the further degeneration of what brain cells you have left.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 23, 2009 | 5:18 a.m.

The truly noxious chemicals (the carcinogens, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which also appear in smoked foods and barbecue) aren't volatile except in the high temperature of a burning cigarette. The smell of smoke on a smoker is harmless.

Some people are afraid that smelling someone else's flatulence is bad for them also. It's never been shown to be a problem. It just smells bad.

Actually lung cancer only affects a minority of smokers, and it usually takes over 20 years of regular smoking to become a risk. Getting a whiff of smoke every now and then is quite a bit less dangerous than walking down a flight of stairs. Relax, Chuck.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 23, 2009 | 9:09 a.m.

>>> The smell of smoke on a smoker is harmless. <<<

Untrue as some people have allergic reactions to certain chemicals in the air or their Asthmatic conditions could be aggravated by those noxious cigarette smells coming off of smoker's clothing.

That is why S.I.L. has a policy of neutral smells when ever you ride on one of their many vans due to and out of respect for any and all allergic reactions or irritations that might occur due to any chemical one might wear on themselves. This includes heavy cigarette smoke that permeates smoker's clothing.

Besides it is good common decency too.

(Report Comment)

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