I don’t smoke. Once I was a campfire cigar smoker, but a rainy afternoon with three cigars on a country porch broke me of that affectation.
So, if our lethargic legislators ever finalize a budget, its most-ballyhooed fund-raising feature of a $1.50 increase tax per pack of cigarettes would not affect me.
I’d have to pay for the added gasoline tax and more for my liquor purchases. But, I’m free and clear of the biggest funding increase for state government.
That’s not fair. Smokers should not have to pay for services we all use.
Talking sports down at the Shop-N-Bag recently, I watched one guy come in and buy a pack of cigarettes for $5. That pack would cost $6.50. Another guy bought two packs for $8.50. They would cost $11. Those are immediate price increases of more than 30 percent.
According to the Center for Disease Control – which has now been barred from sharing health statistics that would prove environmental degradation – only about 17 percent of American adults smoked in 2015. So, even if Oklahomans smoke a little more, it’s likely that less than 20 percent of us have been chosen to pay for Oklahoma state government.
Statistics show that smoking predominates among lower-income people.
In 2008, Smokers comprised 30 percent of the people making less than $6,000 a year; 34 percent of those making up to $12,000 and 30 percent of those making between $12,000 and $23,999.
From there, the next three $12,000 brackets fall from 26 to 22 to 21 percent for people earning from $48,000 to 59,999. The next two brackets are spaced at $30,000, with the $60,000 to $89,999 folks smoking at 16 percent; those up to $119.999 at 13 percent and those earning more than $120,000 smoking at a 13 percent ratio.
So, the legislators have chosen about a fifth of us to foot our bills – and the poorest among us to contribute the most proportionately.
Well, they should just quit smoking?
Nicotine has tested to be just as addictive as heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines and more addictive than alcohol.
Most smokers start young “to be cool” or because “everyone’s doing it.” Addiction is not a moral failure, but a chemical dependency
My standard example of the power of nicotine concerns the guy at the desk to my left 40 years ago in one of the best small-town newsrooms ever assembled. He came in one Monday after a weekend of partying with some thin, brown-wrapped cigarettes that he smoked European-style for added effect.
Too cool. He stuck with those spiffy status smokes – that I won’t give a free plug – for a couple months before he was carrying packs of regular cigarettes to feed his need.
His story resembles many others.
Nicotine has also tested to reduce stress, which a lot of low-income people face on a daily basis. Then, too, once someone is hooked, the next puff will reduce the stress of their nicotine craving.
Writing for the Washington Post in 2015, Keith Humphreys, a professor and Director of Mental Health Policy at Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry, points to three reasons for heavier smoking among lower-income people:
- Lower-income smokers take longer and deeper drags on their cigarettes than others;
- The peer pressure of living and working within a higher smoking group makes it harder to quit;
- Lower-income smokers have less access than others to effective stop-smoking treatments.
Humphreys cites another study to make the point that “endlessly raising tobacco taxes eventually becomes cruelly regressive for addictive low-income smokers who can’t or won’t stop smoking.”
This addiction, he adds, could send smokers “into the black market for untaxed cigarettes.”
In fact, the only other opposition I’ve seen to the cigarette tax increase comes from Republican state representatives in Eastern Oklahoma, who feared the tax hike would send their constituents to Arkansas to buy their smokes and reduce tax local revenues – from other purchases made while the smokers were on cigarette runs.
This led some of them to vote against that fake budget proposal floated by the Republican legislative failureship .
And, consider, too, the reduced buying power of the smokers themselves.
Down at my local store, I’m told that most smokers are about pack-a-day smokers. That’s $10.50 a week that’s not being spent elsewhere, $40 a month, about $500 a year. For each and every smoker.
Commercial interests aside, it is just plain wrong to make a small, mostly-struggling segment of society foot the bill for state government.
So, how can we equalize the tax system to make more folks contributors and better exhibit our Oklahoma spirit of fair play?
I’ve been pondering some kind of holier-than-thou tax to complement the sin taxes that our Legislature turns to when seeking operating funds.
I think I’ve found a tax that would satisfy the rationale used to justify the cigarette tax increase to fund health issues – since smokers are prone to more health issues than the righteous, doncha know.
Having established that the cigarette tax hike amounts to about a 30 percent increase per purchase, let’s just tack a 30 percent tax increase onto every purchase of ice cream.
Just think. Every day as the caravan creeps along Highway 81 toward the ice cream shop, our impatience at people slowing down two miles before their turn would be mitigated by our knowledge that these sturdy citizens were on their way to fund to state governmental services.
And, every other ice cream purchase would make that same contribution.
The good people of Oklahoma have decided that smokers deserve their tax increase because of the health issues linked to cigarette smoking.
But, obesity and diabetes are also health issues – and problems that can be exacerbated
by heavy ice cream consumption. The same reasoning has to make sense in both instances.
And, while nicotine is highly-addictive, you only have to search “sugar addiction” on the Internet to find plenty of ways to curb your sugar cravings.
Mercola (Take Control of Your Life) claims “76 ways in which sugar could pose a significant threat to your health, divided into four categories: increased risk of diseases and sicknesses, nutrient imbalance or deficiency, bodily impairments and behavioral changes.”
Later, we’re informed: “Massive sugar addiction can result in obesity, diabetes, heart damage or failure, cancer cell production, depletion of brain power and shorter life spans.”
Jordan Gaines Lewis of CNN last March observed, “Like drugs, sugar hijacks the brain’s reward pathway, evidence suggests.”
His very technical report has sections titled “Sugar: natural reward, unnatural fix;” “Sugar addiction is real” and “Sugar withdrawal is also real.”
Thus, we can use the same punish-them-out-of-their-predicament arguments against ice cream eaters that we aim at smokers.
Make them pay monetarily for the physical damage they are inflicting upon themselves. The state could use the money – and a greater proportion of us would be paying the bill.
Soda pop could be added to the anti-sugar tax base, too – including diet pops since the jury vacillates on the harmful effects of the sugar substitutes and their tendency to send their drinkers to other sugar sources.
Not a smoker, and a limited ice cream eater who swore off soft drinks about three years ago, maybe I’ll need to move from one to two beers a week to contribute my share to the budget – or take a few more in-state road trips.
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair