I do not smoke, I prefer to avoid the presence of smokers, and I have little sympathy for those who have allowed themselves to become addicted to tobacco. That said, I oppose the passage of Proposition B, the added tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, because I more strongly believe in an individual's rights and freedoms.
James Madison, the fourth president of the U.S., father of the Constitution and the author of the Bill of Rights, warned of the unintended consequences of voter initiatives such as Proposition B in the Federalist Papers. Describing a "Tyranny of the Majority," Madison wrote, "It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. ... If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure."
In a nutshell, decisions may not arbitrarily be decided by mere numerical majorities but require agreement or acceptance by the society as a whole. Accordingly, a coalition of a temporary majority may not steamroll a significant minority interest by sheer weight of numbers. The ancient Greeks had a word for it, "ochlocracy" or mob rule.
Madison eschewed using the word "democracy," fearing citizens would confuse it with a republican form of government. A republic elects representatives as legislators to make its laws and the U.S. and its republican states have a system of "checks and balances" with legislative, executive and judicial branches.
The first voter initiative was authorized in South Dakota in 1898 and was followed by 23 others including Missouri. Although passed by well-meaning legislatures as a vehicle for more direct citizen participation, these ballot initiatives have become virtually a fourth branch of government.
Consequently, and quite often, a turnout of 15 to 20 percent of the electorate is enabled to legislate for all of us — a "revoltin' development" as described by William Bendix as radio's Chester A. Riley.
Proposition B, the proposed 760 percent increase in cigarette tax, is a glaring example of Madison's "Tyranny of the Majority" or "mob rule." A coalition of perhaps well-meaning do-gooders, anti-tobacco activists, intrusive health addicts and the usual "we are saving you from yourselves" crowd have ganged up on the 25 percent of the population who still smoke.
The programmed "Health and Education Trust Fund" allocates 80 percent of the expected revenue to help fund the state's elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities and the remaining 20 percent is saved for anti-smoking programs. The "coalition of the enlightened majority" essays to justify this bullying of a pariah minority by citing both the boon accrued by the tax and the health benefit of curbing the evil smoking habit.
This a "sin tax," aimed at not only a minority but also, historically, at the least affluent segment of our society — the least able to pay it and without the means to fight back. The notion that it is "for the greater good" is false on both fronts — most will not stop smoking but, if they do, what will be the source of the lost revenue?
The feeling of moral superiority among reformed and non-smokers offers a conveniently easy argument to raise revenue from the societal lepers 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? Is it not also 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?
The voters should oppose these sin taxes — there is absolutely no justification for the state to regulate or punish behavior by taxing a minority sector of society or by taxing an otherwise legitimate product out of existence. An impost of this type is morally wrong — if the intent is to ban use of tobacco products, that is a legislative responsibility.
Finally, the responsibility to raise needed revenue is vested in the legislature and should remain so rather that in a coalition of special interest functionaries. I am generally opposed to voter initiatives and referendums inasmuch as we elect legislators to represent our interests, unlike that of a democracy.
Accordingly, as Missouri is one of the 24 states that allow this process, the chances of its repeal range from non-existent to never happen. Nevertheless, taxation and the raising of revenue is a function of the legislature.
It must not be entrusted to any so-called well-meaning majority or mob to be wielded against a helpless or hapless minority.