Taxing Cigarettes and Soda

I was watching something on CNN where they were debating adding a tax of $1.00 per pack of cigarettes. The pro side was that it would lower the smoking rate and produce extra revenue for cancer research. The con side, who was an MD, said she was against it because the revenue would not be put into the right kind of research and this tax would disproportionately affect the poor.  I live in NYC where cigarettes are more than $12 per pack, I’ve seen some for $14. I am all in favor of doing anything that will prevent people from starting smoking and anything to help smokers quit.  Its interesting to note that I have read a few books on Doris Duke; for those that don’t know her her father Buck Duke was the richest tobacco magnate in the world. Before he died in 1913 he had read studies that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that smoking lead to disease and death; knowing this he assumed the American people would stop smoking so he diversified and started Duke Power so that Doris would always have unimaginable wealth. So, 100 years later and millions of deaths people still smoke. One of the reasons they smoke is because nicotine is one of the most addictive substances in the world, more so than heroin. Once someone starts smoking its extremely difficult for them to quit.  I am all in favor of very high taxes on cigarettes make them so expensive that people have to seriously rethink their smoking, and so expensive that kids wouldn’t want to waste money on trying them. I disagree with the new mandate that says each pack of cigarettes has to have a gruesome picture of someone dying from smoking related diseases, and letting the company only have the bottom half of the pack to put their brand. I would not let them put their brands on the cigarettes at all, just have blank white boxes with cigarettes in them, I think that would be a lot more effective in making cigarettes look less appealing. And possibly, even not seeing the brand will break a small part of the habit.

Last week Mayor Bloomberg announced a new policy that would outlaw sugary drinks over 16 oz. You could still buy larger sizes in the supermarket, but not at a restaurant, not even Starbucks. I don’t like this approach; its too inconsistent and confusing. I say raise taxes on all soda period. That way where ever you buy or consume it you will be paying more and maybe you’ll think twice about having soda or hi calorie drinks.

So, YES I believe in taxing things to make people less likely to use them. No thats not a nanny state, not in the least. Smokers and obese people drive up the cost of health care dramatically so trying to persuade them to consume less is a good thing. Now the slippery slope: should an insurance company charge smokers more than non smokers? Should they charge obese people more than non obese people?

Preventative care is always the best, so whatever it takes to get people to stop smoking and becoming obese should be done.


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