Tags: Taxing | Smokers: | The | BOHICA | Constituency

Taxing Smokers: The BOHICA Constituency

Tuesday, 17 February 2004 12:00 AM

After each painful whack and subsequent grimace, the hapless freshman is directed to cry out, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

This is also, unfortunately, the servile posture of American taxpayers when their elected leaders have insufficient money to spend. To conservatives and libertarians, the familiar attitude is affectionately known as the “Bohica Position”: Bend over, here it comes again.

In the first fiscal quarter, as governors submit economic proposals to address state budget shortfalls, their natural instinct is to discern the most craven constituencies they are able to additionally tax with impunity. In Michigan these groups reveal themselves primarily as smokers in addition to alcoholic beverage bibbers.

Now in the minority, and generally regarded by the majority and the media as an almost untouchable caste, smokers are unfairly singled out for seemingly unending punitive taxation and social opprobrium.

I say unfairly because my reading of Article Fourteen of the Constitution seems to dictate that laws must be equally applicable to all citizens, and not with some targeted directly to a disfavored group.

No matter that state governments are running deficits, no matter that legislators would rather increase revenues instead of cutting wasteful spending — hiking taxes on the backs of smokers as a way of filling state coffers to relieve a budget mess is just another example of “organized plunder.”

Thus the state perpetuates a system of fraud, robbery and extortion that citizens unquestionably submit to, and one where politicians complacently assume their right to take our wealth for their own purposes.

After recommending piling new taxes on smokers, Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm assuages her conscience with the blithe excuse that by increasing the cost of cigarettes, people will be discouraged from smoking, an observation that seems to contradict the purpose of increasing taxes on tobacco in the first place.

In any case, the people of Michigan did not elect the governor of the state to be an anti-smoking nanny, and as a group of overburdened taxpayers, smokers receive nothing in return to justify the amounts they are forced to pay. After all, over 83 percent of the cost of a pack of cigarettes is in federal, state and local taxes alone.

A second assault on this beleaguered group now comes from Washington. Four former surgeons general are calling for a “reduce smoking” plan that will add another $2-per-pack excise tax that might coerce five million cigarette smokers to quit.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is throwing $25 million of taxpayer money this year toward the installation of a toll-free national “quitline,” along with grants to states to create their own quitline services.

Is this a good way to spend tax revenues? Is it not layer upon layer of federal and state redundancies? Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

In the federal scenario, as well as with the one suggested by Governor Granholm, hefty tax levies will add to tobacco smuggling and illegal Internet sales, as smokers try to avoid the higher prices. With a current estimated loss of $60 million in Michigan tax revenue alone, further taxation will only increase the loss.

How much tax is enough? Political leaders seem to recognize no limit in their tax-and-spend pursuits, and they view taxpayers as an inexhaustible resource. Too often, they view our money as their money, to be used responsibly or irresponsibly as circumstances dictate, disregarding the morality of taking the money of others and spending it as if it were their own.

Over a decade ago, economic historian Charles Adams wrote that “history is largely the story of men’s constant efforts to get the wealth produced by other men, with the state the main means of acquisition.”

Burdening smokers with still more onerous taxation has the most odious result: the loss of individual freedom caused by a heavy-handed government that attempts to control people’s behavior. And there is a price to be paid for what people judge to be confiscatory taxes.

The first is resentment; the second is the attempt to get around these obstacles by whatever means necessary; finally, there comes a decline in respect for law in general.

In a speech at a public affairs conference, author Joseph Sobran noted that taxpayers offer only sporadic resistance with “tax revolts.” “If we are truly self-governed and our political leaders are only our servants,” he said, “how can we ‘revolt’ against our own servants? Or have they really become our masters?”

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After each painful whack and subsequent grimace, the hapless freshman is directed to cry out, "Thank you sir, may I have another?" This is also, unfortunately, the servile posture of American taxpayers when their elected leaders have insufficient money to spend.To...
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2004-00-17
Tuesday, 17 February 2004 12:00 AM
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