J. KARL MILLER: Taxing smokers isn't the answer to state revenue woes

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 | 10:16 p.m. CST; updated 12:10 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 24, 2010

With the state's coffers showing signs of bottoming out, there is a natural inclination to consider piling on smokers again by increasing taxes on their habit. Never mind that the federal levy on cigarettes jumped 61.6 cents per pack in April 2009, taxing tobacco users who, as a group, number the poorest of our citizens. They remain a lucrative target by the more enlightened.

My own representative, the 25th Legislative District's Mary Still, has joined this bandwagon, pointing out that Missouri now has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation at 17 cents per pack. Echoing the arguments posed by most tobacco tax advocates, she uses budget estimates that smoking-related illnesses costs Missouri Medicaid $641 million in combined federal and state funds and calls for Missouri's smokers to do their part in covering the added health expense.

The popularly accepted notion that smoker's health costs strap the health care system can be countered by estimates from Action on Smoking and Health and University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter 2000. The former relates that a 30-year-old smoker's life expectancy is about 60 while the 30-year-old nonsmoker can look forward to living to 83.

The latter, the Wellness Letter, estimates that every cigarette smoked reduces life by 11 minutes; accordingly, each carton costs a day and a half and every year of smoking cuts the smoker's life span by nearly two months. These estimates and similar tests delineate the utter fallacy of attempting to assess the health care costs per smoker without considering also the obvious savings due to their significantly shorter life span.

Admittedly, these comparisons could be carried to the extreme, neither satisfying nor proving anything to those with preformed conclusions. And, I really don't have a dog in this fight as I am a nonsmoker, having kicked the habit in 1968. Moreover, my sympathy for those who use tobacco ranges somewhere between ambivalent and nonexistent — I embrace my grandmother's description of a cigarette as a "cylinder with fire at one end and a fool at the other."

However, my opposition to the "sin taxes" is simple and straightforward. I find no justification for the government to regulate, control or punish behavior either by taxing a particular segment of society or by taxing a legally produced and marketed product out of existence. Raising taxes to compensate for faulty financial management procedures is a poor way to run a railroad, but levying that penalty on some 20 percent of the people is beyond reprehensible.

As the percentage of those who smoke has diminished, the still addicted have attracted animosity to the extent that it has become increasingly difficult to find an area where they can light up. Here in Columbia, that at least 50 percent of restaurants were non smoking made no difference: The City Council opted to remove choice from customers and business alike. Smoking is banned.

The feeling of moral superiority among non- and reformed smokers offers a conveniently easy argument to raise revenue from the societal pariahs of the tobacco set. After all, is it not a fact that smoking is harmful/offensive to the user as well as to the public at large? Why is it not obvious that the anti-smoking crowd knows best and actively serves smokers' interests in punishing them and their pocketbooks by pricing tobacco products beyond their ability to pay?

Popular opinion to the contrary, smokers have the same rights bestowed upon all of us — to include that of self-destructive behavior. Government as well as privately owned establishments may restrict smoking on their premises, but that jurisdiction ends at the collective area so controlled. Taxation to control or punish behavior is inherently wrong. If the intent is to ban smoking, do it legally by legislative fiat.

Finally, if, as a last resort, additional revenue is required, seek a solution that affects everyone on an equal basis. Levy it on a staple that taxes everyone equally — fuel, bread, milk or eggs, thus avoiding unfairly burdening a minority that has no option save unconditional surrender.

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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John Erkle November 24, 2010 | 6:30 a.m.

They have created a fear that is based on nothing’’
World-renowned pulmonologist, president of the prestigious Research Institute Necker for the last decade, Professor Philippe Even, now retired, tells us that he’s convinced of the absence of harm from passive smoking. A shocking interview.

What do the studies on passive smoking tell us?

PHILIPPE EVEN. There are about a hundred studies on the issue. First surprise: 40% of them claim a total absence of harmful effects of passive smoking on health. The remaining 60% estimate that the cancer risk is multiplied by 0.02 for the most optimistic and by 0.15 for the more pessimistic … compared to a risk multiplied by 10 or 20 for active smoking! It is therefore negligible. Clearly, the harm is either nonexistent, or it is extremely low.

It is an indisputable scientific fact. Anti-tobacco associations report 3 000-6 000 deaths per year in France ...

I am curious to know their sources. No study has ever produced such a result.

Many experts argue that passive smoking is also responsible for cardiovascular disease and other asthma attacks. Not you?

They don’t base it on any solid scientific evidence. Take the case of cardiovascular diseases: the four main causes are obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. To determine whether passive smoking is an aggravating factor, there should be a study on people who have none of these four symptoms. But this was never done. Regarding chronic bronchitis, although the role of active smoking is undeniable, that of passive smoking is yet to be proven. For asthma, it is indeed a contributing factor ... but not greater than pollen!

The purpose of the ban on smoking in public places, however, was to protect non-smokers. It was thus based on nothing?

Absolutely nothing! The psychosis began with the publication of a report by the IARC, International Agency for Research on Cancer, which depends on the WHO (Editor's note: World Health Organization). The report released in 2002 says it is now proven that passive smoking carries serious health risks, but without showing the evidence. Where are the data? What was the methodology? It's everything but a scientific approach. It was creating fear that is not based on anything.

Why would anti-tobacco organizations wave a threat that does not exist?

The anti-smoking campaigns and higher cigarette prices having failed, they had to find a new way to lower the number of smokers. By waving the threat of passive smoking, they found a tool that really works: social pressure. In good faith, non-smokers felt in danger and started to stand up against smokers.

(Report Comment)
John Erkle November 24, 2010 | 6:31 a.m.

As a result, passive smoking has become a public health problem, paving the way for the Evin Law and the decree banning smoking in public places. The cause may be good, but I do not think it is good to legislate on a lie. And the worst part is that it does not work: since the entry into force of the decree, cigarette sales are rising again.

Why not speak up earlier?

As a civil servant, dean of the largest medical faculty in France, I was held to confidentiality. If I had deviated from official positions, I would have had to pay the consequences. Today, I am a free man.

Le Parisien

(Report Comment)
John Bliss November 24, 2010 | 12:24 p.m.

Colonel, I will address this article, first, Philippe, in all your tests results,one thing you over-looked, DEATH! My Mother and Sister died due to cigarettes, and second-hand smoke too, as my father smoked like a chimmey! yes, they both did too, for a period, but there was no chance to get well, with dads' habit! Colonel, I was wondering if those in state office, or their family, smoked? Like yourself, I'm not a smoker or drinker, so a sinner's tax would not effect me. But if their "goal" was to ban smoking, where would the revenue come from? Good one Sir!

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop November 24, 2010 | 4:07 p.m.

We could solve this problem easily. If you smoke, you are not eligible for state funded care for cardio pulmonary illnesses UNLESS your cigarette taxes were specifically charged for that purpose. That's like insurance. If you pay for it, you should get it. If the state is charging taxes on cigarettes, and they are not expressly going into a lockbox for smoking related illnesses, then it should state so on the package and you smoke at your own risk and no taxpayer money should be used to help you. In combat, we call that SIW....self inflicted wound. You don't get alot of sympathy. Self responsibility. What a concept.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop November 24, 2010 | 4:25 p.m.

Let's add to this that the risk of cancer of all types great increases with aging. And we are rapidly facing an aging of baby boomers coupled with rapid increases in life expectancy. A recent study shows that 30% of humans have experienced some type of cancer by age 85. So do not underestimate the ability of researchers to make inferences to cause and affect which will help pad their budgets.

I can assure you that eventually there will be a study, funded by your money, which posits the brilliant discovery that breathing causes death. After all, it will be shown that anyone who ever breathed eventually died.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop November 24, 2010 | 4:35 p.m.

The effects of tobacco products on cancer and heart disease have been known for 250 years.

120 years ago cigarettes were called coffin nails. They do not cause people to rob banks or commit burglaries nor many other unsocial behaviors like narcotics do. If people want to smoke fine. In a public place the proprietor should decide. You at home decide. In a public conveyance it should be prohibited. Make the fine hefty from throwing their cigarette but away on public or private property they don't own.

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Paul Austin November 24, 2010 | 6:01 p.m.

"They do not cause people to rob banks or commit burglaries nor many other unsocial behaviors like narcotics do."?????
Sorry Don, you are wrong. According to latest research:
Not only that, it makes them fat:
So it is the fault of that obese burglars 'Momma', who is running off with your home theatre system.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop November 24, 2010 | 7:12 p.m.

Well Paul, before you declare me wrong, let's take a closer look at what the article said. We should begin midway through the article:

Dr Angela Paradis, of Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, who led the study, said it was not possible to 'definitively' describe heavy smoking as a cause of adult criminal offending.

The article also says this:

The US researchers looked at factors such as mental ill health and deprivation which are known to put children on the path to criminal careers.

Even after these have been taken into account, the offspring of heavy smokers are a third more likely to have ever been arrested as adults.

What the article does not say is whether the parents had criminal records, or if there was proper parental supervision and moral teachings in the home during childhood. It does not mention whether good nutrition, exercise, or organized sports were a part of the child's life growing up.

It does not state how the criminal records compare of parents who smoked and went to church and taught their children manners and acceptable conduct compared to parents who did not smoke and did not teach their children properly.

In short, it's a bunch of bunk.

(Report Comment)
Paul Austin November 25, 2010 | 1:16 a.m.

Don, please excuse my lame attempt at humor.
What I was trying to do was illustrate at what length the PH establishment will go to substantiate its entrenched ideology.
I tried to retrieve an article (it has since expired)where in 2008 researchers in Univ. of Auckland, NZ had found that obese individuals elude pheromones, when consuming fats and sugars, that drift to the olfactory senses of nearby persons. These pheromones then stimulated the hunger response thereby generating the press headline, "2nd Hand Fat Discovered."
My beef is that responsible research efforts have focused on things like single source causality, minimalization of co-founder/biases, etc. and release to the lay press without peer review. In addition the disease of 'Lysencoism' discourages responsible dissent.
Research findings are then picked up by the lay press, who then hype and sensationalize them. The public is left to consume these flawed works and then demand action by their elected officials.
Once these remedies become public policy, many times, fail to meet the expectations which leads to calls for more ineffective measures.
Central to Mr. Millers arguement is that Rep. Still is using the same justification(s) to enact tax policy legislation that will have minimal, if any, effect on the aggrieved condition(s).
In short, better to remove (ban it) the cause before we fall prey to further revenue addiction. If Rep. Stills' assertions of single source public harm is correct the medical community will benefit financially and provide a stable tax base ripe for revenue enhancement.

(Report Comment)
Evelyn Dunn November 26, 2010 | 3:34 p.m.

Congratulations again to Colonel Miller for choosing a hot topic which elicits so much comment.All I have to add is this. Several years ago (maybe 5 or 6)The World Health Organization (WHO) produced a report on the effects of second hand smoke. It was released in England and a friend sent it to me. Coincidentally it was not available in the US. Strange that a report from WHO would not be available? Not really when one realizes that at that very time
our legislators were working on the federal tax issue to raise the cigarette tax because of the DANGERS of secondhand smoke.And guess what the report found. The so-called danger was
not proven at all. Finally I agree with the columnist...a tax should be equal for all, not single out a certain group.

(Report Comment)

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