Politics

I Didn't Ask for Help

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Smoker's Quitline is on the verge of declaring "Mission Accomplished," since New York's "highest-in-the-nation cigarette tax" went into effect two weeks ago.

The Quitline provides all kinds of "help" for people who "want" to quit smoking, and requests for their services have increased by the thousands since NY levied the tax. In New York, apparently, not being able to afford your habit equates to not wanting to do it anymore:

"Not everyone that tries, quits," Daines said. "We estimate about 140,000 New Yorkers will successfully quit smoking. We may have more than a million try to cut down or stop, but this is how you get people to try: give them multiple chances and multiple reasons to stop." [emphasis added.]

Kudos to Associated Press writer Valerie Bauman for getting Audrey Silk, head of NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, on the record stating her logical opposition to the $1.50-per-pack increase:

"No matter the goal, it's disgusting that any group would actually boast that coercive government — this time through the hammer of taxation — to beat a class of society enjoying a legal product into submission is 'successful'," Silk said.

Past reason contributor Ed Carson with a 1995 rebuttal to sin taxes. And of course, no smoking-related post would be complete without a reference to Senior Editor Jacob Sullum's book, For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health.


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  1. I think I’d simply tell New York to stick its city up its ass, and then I’d move away.

  2. So what Silk is saying is that we should just make cigarettes illegal if we don’t want people smoking them?
    But then how would we pay for all of our other programs?

  3. This post has exceeded its scare quotes quota.

    And it appears that NY has found an effective threshold for their Pigovian cigarette tax. Why shouldn’t they crow that they’ve been successful?

  4. People really need to buy smokes from the Indians. The Seneca tribe–of New York State–doesn’t charge taxes. Why aren’t they doing this?

  5. People really need to buy smokes from the Indians. The Seneca tribe–of New York State–doesn’t charge taxes. Why aren’t they doing this?

    Because New York is clamping down on the shippers. From the Seneca website:

    Please note: There are serious shipping delays on all premium and generic products. This delay is being caused by New York State and Phillip Morris. New York has stopped distributors from delivering to us and Phillip Morris has limited how much of their product can be delivered to Indian territories.

  6. Ha, this is nothing. Just wait until Al Gore and the global warming crowd pick up on this model.

  7. Hey, why not just go whole hog and put video monitors in everyone’s house? Then you can tell them to work out and eat healthy too, and since the taxpayers will be footing the healthcare bill it’s only fair we force everyone to be healthy. There was a great book called 1984 where they did this and it seemed to work out well for everyone.

    This post has exceeded its scare quotes quota.

    Maybe we need a “scare quote” tax to “encourage” people to stop using them.

  8. Everyone here rolls their own to avoid the tax.

    That also comes in handy for those who sometimes roll something else.

  9. Because New York is clamping down on the shippers.

    There’s been no problem with AllOfOurButts which is also Seneca.

  10. I would have less of a problem with sin taxes if they were a *substitute* for other taxes, not a supplement, as seems to be the case in the Peoples’ Socialist Republic of New York.

    For instance, if someone suggested abolishing the federal payroll tax and replacing it with taxes on cigarettes, liquor and potato chips, I would be willing to listen to the proposal without automatically storming out of the room.

  11. Mad Max,
    I would be okay with a compromise where they legalize marijuana, crack, and heroine, but taxed them and used the extra revenue to replace some of the income tax revenue. If they implemented a carbon tax to replace part of the income tax, I might also be open to that.

  12. If NYC really wanted to put “Citizens blah blah blah” out of business, they could just put a tax on astroturf.

  13. it’s disgusting that any group would actually boast that coercive government…is ‘successful’

    She’s so cute when she’s naive.

  14. I would be okay with a compromise where they legalize marijuana, crack, and heroine, but taxed them and used the extra revenue to replace some of the income tax revenue. If they implemented a carbon tax to replace part of the income tax, I might also be open to that.

    I can get behind nearly any replacement of the income tax with a consumption tax. My only concern is that a partial replacement leaves the income tax on the books, leaves us all subject to the grotesque intrusions of the IRS, and leaves the door open for “progressive” tax rate funded wealth transfers.

  15. For instance, if someone suggested abolishing the federal payroll tax and replacing it with taxes on cigarettes, liquor and potato chips, I would be willing to listen to the proposal without automatically storming out of the room.

    And

    I would be okay with a compromise where they legalize marijuana, crack, and heroine, but taxed them and used the extra revenue to replace some of the income tax revenue.

    So what you’re essentially saying is that, whatever taxation there is, it would be nice if it were more narrowly targeted at some disfavored (by you, of course) groups of people rather than shared more broadly across society? Or in other words, if we’re going to tax anything let’s tax stuff other people like. How noble.

  16. Brian Courts,
    No, it’s just that I see taxation of the consumption of luxuries as less offensive than the taxation of productivity.

  17. Of course, maybe Brian wants to keep our “progressive” tax system because he doesn’t like the wealthy.

  18. Of course, maybe Brian wants to keep our “progressive” tax system because he doesn’t like the wealthy.

    Heh. Hardly. I think there should be much less taxation and much less government in general. I just think it is wrong to single out any disfavored group to bear the brunt of financing whatever level of government we do have. Taxing smokers (or cocaine users for that matter) because they are a small, politically weak and unpopular group, or simply because you can, is wrong. There is no good moral argument in my mind for forcing someone who smokes (I don’t for the record, so this isn’t a personal issue) to buy all kinds of crap for everyone else.

    In other words, if the people want something done by government they should share the cost as broadly as possible rather than singling out some small group whose behavior has little nexus to whatever programs they’re being forced to support.

  19. In other words, if the people want something done by government they should share the cost as broadly as possible rather than singling out some small group whose behavior has little nexus to whatever programs they’re being forced to support.

    An excellent indictment of “progressive” income tax rates, Brian.

  20. There’s been no problem with AllOfOurButts which is also Seneca.

    I used to order from Switzerland until that paragon of virtue Eliot Spitzer ordered the post office to start confiscating them. Then he ordered credit card companies to deny charges for them. This was back in his “rising star” days.

    I see this one doesn’t take credit cards but it’s still USPS – I wonder what the chances of actually receiving my order would be.

  21. No, it’s just that I see taxation of the consumption of luxuries as less offensive than the taxation of productivity.

    May I go through your lifestyle and possessions and declare which are luxuries, thus taxable? Can I set the rate to discourage your frivolous purchases?

    Pretty Please? I’m very good at this. You’d be surprised at your prodigious consumption of luxuries. I’m really, really good at IDing other people’s wasteful luxury spending.

  22. I’m with Mad Max and economist on this one. It’s not a matter of taxing “small, politically weak and unpopular groups,” it’s a recognition that it’s better to tax the things you don’t want (e.g. substances that cause disease) than things you do want (e.g. income, trade, etc.). Obviously there are logical limits to this approach: it wouldn’t make sense to tax poverty and subsidize wealth. Still, sin taxes often make sense.

  23. I’m with Mad Max and economist on this one. It’s not a matter of taxing “small, politically weak and unpopular groups,” it’s a recognition that it’s better to tax the things you don’t want (e.g. substances that cause disease) than things you do want (e.g. income, trade, etc.). Obviously there are logical limits to this approach: it wouldn’t make sense to tax poverty and subsidize wealth. Still, sin taxes often make sense.

    I don’t exist to serve the goddam government. I don’t exist to serve goddam society. If I choose to do so fine. If I choose not to, just lump it buddy. The smoker, the fat boy, the crack head, the sky diver,and the race car driver, are engaging in “the pursuit of happiness”.* just as much as Bill Gates antd other titans of capitalism. It’s their life and a tolerant** and humble** position would be that how they spend their lives is NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS.

    * I read that phrase somewhere and it stuck with me.

    **You may be surprised that these attributes are often considered moral and desirable.

  24. I’m with Mad Max and economist on this one.

    And I’m with J sub D on this one. It’s not a proper role for government to be coercing people into or away from some behavior “for their own good.”

    An excellent indictment of “progressive” income tax rates, Brian.

    Thank you, R C. 🙂

  25. I don’t exist to serve the goddam government.

    Not saying you do. My point is that if you are a libertarian, you must admit that there have to be some taxes, and if there are, what should be taxed? I’m just saying that it’s often better to tax “bad” things than “good” things. Yes, that’s a form of coercion and behavior modification, but so are all taxes.

  26. Not saying you do. My point is that if you are a libertarian, you must admit that there have to be some taxes, and if there are, what should be taxed? I’m just saying that it’s often better to tax “bad” things than “good” things. Yes, that’s a form of coercion and behavior modification, but so are all taxes.

    And how generous of you to define those “bad things” and “good things” for the rest of society. Lacking your wisdom and self righteousness, I’ll refrain from defining what people do with their own fucking lives as “Good” or “Bad”.

    Think of Huckabee that ignorant hillbilly whackjob preacher or Feministing deciding good and Bad things to tax.

    See my comment on humility and tolerance.

  27. So taxes should be leveed without regard to what might be considered good or bad, because it’s “self-righteous” for anyone to make that distinction? A distinction only made by ignorant hillbillies and radical feminists? Ah, the idealism of college dorm bull sessions! Takes me back.

    Unfortunately for that point of view, though, politics in the real world assumes the existence of good and bad as givens, and the real arguments are about the good and bad effects of political and economic decisions. But if you’ve got a perfectly morally neutral method of raising tax revenue, one that’s somehow better than the self-righteous sort that understands taxing something tends to discourage it, let’s hear it.

  28. I can see I might have offended a few people unintentionally (as opposed to the numerous times I’ve offended lots of people intentionally). I would love to get rid of all taxes, including sin taxes, but I still consider consumption taxes to be “less worse” than income (read “productivity”) taxes. However, if anyone would like to join an armed revolt against the government, be my guest. You’ll never get the majority of people to vote to eliminate all taxes (or other forms of government tyranny, for that matter).

  29. So taxes should be leveed without regard to what might be considered good or bad, because it’s “self-righteous” for anyone to make that distinction? A distinction only made by ignorant hillbillies and radical feminists?

    Does an excise tax on yachts and luxury vehicles ring a bell? Would Obama find handguns to be “bad” and deserving of exorbitant taxe levees? I threw out extremes but we’ve already seen what “moderate” social engineers are capable of, haven’t we?

  30. I’m not arguing for luxury taxes or the sort of social engineering that Obama would no doubt love to do. All I’m saying is that since we know taxation of anything is a form of social engineering because taxing something discourages it, it makes sense to take that into consideration when setting up tax systems. And so as economist points out, consumption taxes are less bad than productivity taxes.

  31. And so as economist points out, consumption taxes are less bad than productivity taxes.

    You’ll get no argument from me. Tax all consumption, even food, [gasp] and medical expenses, [double gasp]. Now we’re getting somewhere. Just don’t tell me or others what is a “good” way to spend our own goddam money.

    The exception is golf expenses should be taxed at triple the rate of everything else.

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