Nanny State

Protect Vital Programs! Keep Smoking!

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Michael Siegel catches anti-smoking groups in North Carolina pushing a $1 increase in the state cigarette tax with the argument that it won't be all that effective at reducing smoking. In a recent press release, the North Carolina Alliance for Health—which includes the state chapters of the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association—reassures legislators that the proposed tax hike will produce "a large, sustained increase in state tobacco tax revenues" that can be counted on to "protect vital programs like education and law enforcement from deep cuts" for many years to come. Siegel comments:

Instead of calling on measures to substantially reduce cigarette smoking so that cigarette tax revenues decline over time, the Alliance is committed to making sure that cigarette consumption does not drop too much, thereby threatening cigarette revenues….

A coalition of groups whose interest is supposed to be in protecting the public's health is instead primarily interested in using cigarette smokers as a source of funding for state programs and is committed to preserving the level of cigarette smoking so as not to threaten that funding.

This story reveals one of the chief problems associated with the anti-smoking groups' indiscriminate and knee-jerk support for all cigarette tax increases: the use of cigarette tax revenue to fund essential government programs makes the state dependent upon continued smoking to fund those programs, and it removes any incentive for programs that would substantially reduce smoking levels.

As I note in For Your Own Good, my book on the anti-smoking movement, modern activists who rail against tobacco while happily accepting the profits it produces are following a pattern set by King James I at the dawn of the 17th century.