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Tags: smoking | tax | Proposition | 29

Bad Tobacco Habits Fund Good Healthcare for Children

By    |   Monday, 04 June 2012 06:23 PM EDT

Donny York’s Perspective: With California and other states moving to increase cigarette taxes faster than you can say ‘get me a pack of Marlboros,’ there’s a dirty little secret that everyone seems to be missing.

Isaiah Atkinson lights up in San Francisco.
(Getty Images)
Putting aside the fact that this is yet another example of government intrusion in our lives, the persistence of people’s bad tobacco habits keeps the nation’s State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) from folding — and it has since Congress made the taxation of cigarettes the real source for funding in 1997.

It’s that stark.

Still, proponents of tomorrow’s Proposition 29 in California defend the proposed $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes, pointing to the likely reduction in smoking that may occur as a principal benefit.

In 2009 President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) as the new, improved version of the original 1997 law, enshrining retail tobacco taxation as the financing mechanism.

So, statutorily, at least, the program depends on as many people smoking as possible.

Uh . . .

With this kind of logic, perhaps everyone should start smoking. Or are the sacrifices of regrettably tobacco-addicted souls in your community for children’s healthcare — even comfortably middle class children’s healthcare — something you’re actually comfortable with?

In the interest of public health I am more than willing to do my part by contributing this special song as a public service announcement to promote the need for every citizen to do their small part to make America healthier.

Watch the video below:

If the onus is on the government to provide healthcare for everyone, then why is it any less ridiculous to encourage everyone to start buying cigarettes? Or put another way, if you don’t buy cigarettes, what kind of citizen are you?

According to government website www.InsureKidsNow.gov, the CHIPRA “signed by President Obama allows states to have more opportunities to improve access to these programs.”

But look, the numbers are showing up — tobacco usage has been trending generally downward for years now.

And the more state-sponsored tobacco cessation programs succeed, the more likely that CHIPRA is to fail since it is run by individual states. Unlike the federal government, the states have no mechanism for printing money!

I remember first moving to L.A. as a young adult, doing the “ShaNaNa” TV series, in the late 1970s — feeling an elevated sense of having arrived into modernity and grace partly because Jerry Brown was California’s governor.

Frequently admired in Rolling Stone, the rock intelligentsia’s “Bible” back then, Jerry Brown, son of Gov. Pat Brown, was a former Jesuit seminarian who decided against becoming a priest. He dabbled in Buddhism, and you just knew the Age of Aquarius was coming along nicely with his helmsmanship as the simply inevitable governor of the Golden State. He was a new breed for the new age.

The Jerry Browns of the political world always seem to revert to type. Individually, they deny us our sovereign choices and take them unto government — with the best of intentions of course.

They continue to find ever more creative ways to transfer our wealth back to them. Taxation of cigarettes — like other so-called “sin taxes,” is an easy way around government accountability.

Typically, they disguise their intrusions into our lives with some noble purpose, like paying for California’s “early childhood education” with a 50-cent-per-pack tax increase in 1998. Last week Illinois passed a $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase in the name of Medicaid funding.

In Alabama, a share of tobacco tax revenue has gone toward surveillance technology, while it was used to fund sewer improvements in South Carolina, and museum expansion in Alaska. Many states commonly put the money toward drug rehabilitation or smoking cessation.

Such tax money might just as easily find its way into a state’s general fund, which raises another question: Where will the lost cigarette tax revenue come from as smokers kick the habit?

Donny York is a co-founder and lifelong member of the musical group ShaNaNa. He holds a political science degree from Columbia University, under the same faculty that graduated Eric Holder in 1973 and Barack Obama in 1983.

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Monday, 04 June 2012 06:23 PM
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