Why Do Democrats Want To Create More Eric Garners?

Higher cigarette taxes will fuel greater black-market activity and more confrontations with the police.


The 2014 killing of Eric Garner by a New York City police officer is an example of how enforcement of even petty laws (in this case, tobacco taxes) can be lethal. Peddling a few loose cigarettes in defiance of the government might carry a death sentence when cops impose the state's will. So, why are Democrats pushing for higher cigarette taxes which will fuel an even larger black market and more confrontations with members of the public who seek relief from the government's endless demands? That question demands an answer as New York City prepares for a new inquiry into Garner's death.

"Millions of Americans who smoke could soon see an increase in their prices, as Democrats target tobacco and nicotine to help finance their $3.5 trillion economic package," the Washington Post reported last month. 

The hike would have an even bigger effect than supporters suggest, since it also elevates state tobacco taxes.

"When states tax tobacco products by price, the tax on the product will pyramid since the federal tax is levied at the manufacturer level and the state tax is levied at distribution level," explains Ulrik Boesen for the Tax Foundation. "In effect, the state tax base includes the federal tax and becomes a tax on a tax."

Proponents of the scheme hope it will raise $100 billion to fund the (thankfully) stalled big-government bill. But they also claim higher taxes will pressure nicotine fans to quit (and there goes that revenue!).

"The record is clear that there's a stunning correlation between increased cigarette prices and reduced consumption over the decades, with federal and state tax hikes on tobacco playing a key role," insists Marie Cocco, a health policy flack. She claims increasing the government's take will "raise revenue, reduce tobacco use and, over time, holds the potential to save billions in health care costs."

Maybe higher taxes do correlate with lower tobacco use. They definitely correlate with vigorous black markets patronized by customers looking for prices that haven't been sent through the roof by the government's appetite.

"In 2018, New York was the highest net importer of smuggled cigarettes, totaling 53.2 percent of total cigarette consumption in the state," notes the Tax Foundation's Boesen. "New York also has one of the highest state cigarette taxes ($4.35 per pack), not counting the additional local New York City cigarette tax ($1.50 per pack)."

Eric Garner was a New Yorker who had been arrested multiple times for engaging in the lucrative business of selling "loosies"—smuggled cigarettes peddled individually to people seeking relief from high taxes. 

"The tax went up, and we started selling 10 times as much," one illegal vendor told The New York Times in 2011 during the reign of notoriously intrusive Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Bloomberg thinks he's stopping people from smoking. He's just turning them onto loosies."

Eric Garner was killed by Officer Daniel Pantaleo using an illegal chokehold, but he was targeted because the cops thought he was engaged in his usual underground trade. While reporting in 2014 on protests against police brutality after Garner's murder by police, the BBC acknowledged that "For some, however, another party bears some responsibility in Garner's death - an out-of-control nanny-state government attempting to enforce a prohibition on the sale of untaxed cigarettes."

Ultimately, all prohibitions, mandates, laws, and taxes are statements by lawmakers that here is an issue over which the government is willing to use violence to enforce compliance. That violence might be deployed to stop murderers, or it can be wielded in an effort to prevent people from selling loose cigarettes. Historically, high tobacco taxes have always resulted in a large number of people seeking to evade the law. Remember, more than half of the cigarettes sold in New York are smuggled; that means a tax hike inevitably increases the ranks of potential victims of state violence.

"On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce," Yale Law School's Professor Stephen L. Carter wrote in 2014. "I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn't. Whatever your view on the refusal of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer whose chokehold apparently led to the death of Eric Garner, it's useful to remember the crime that Garner is alleged to have committed: He was selling individual cigarettes, or loosies, in violation of New York law."

This caution can be applied to all sorts of state intrusions into people's lives, of course. From drug laws to gun restrictions to zoning rules, government dictates are ultimately enforced by people employed to threaten, hurt, and even kill those who won't comply. All sorts of mandates and prohibitions inflicted on society by lawmakers from both major political parties rely on the threat of force.

But high tobacco taxes are so closely linked to huge black markets that it's impossible to pretend that the proposed tax hike in the spending bill won't result in massive noncompliance. And that means more enforcement efforts and more conflict. So, why are congressional Democrats so committed to creating an unknown number of new Eric Garners by massively increasing tobacco excise taxes? That question can't be ignored as New York City readies for an inquiry into Eric Garner's death that will begin October 25.

"As you know, in 2019, Daniel Pantaleo was finally fired because of killing my son with a chokehold, and I've fought for five years for this to happen," Gwen Carr, Garner's mother, commented during a recent hearing. "This didn't happen because of the police department or the de Blasio administration, it happened because I just fought tooth and nail."

Maybe the inquiry will help to settle questions over the death of Eric Garner, though the record of law enforcement taking responsibility for its actions isn't good. But lawmakers also need to take responsibility for what they want enforced. 

Here is a hint as to how to avoid more Eric Garners in the future: Don't keep driving people to the black market and creating confrontations with police by hiking taxes beyond the public's willingness to pay.

NEXT: The Industrial Revolutions

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58 responses to “Why Do Democrats Want To Create More Eric Garners?

  1. Why do Democrats want to create more Eric Garners? I believe Ayn Rand answered that question many years ago - “There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” Three felonies a day, baby!

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  2. Yeah, more black markets means more cops, more prosecutors, and more jail contractors. Those are some good jobs.

  3. Controlling the population with police is something the Dems like doing. Woke Mike will point out that how could the NYPD know that Garner wasn’t carrying guns and bombs?
    Top Dem Biden drone strike murders innocent children in Afghanistan so it is reasonable to expect lower tier Democratic Party members to order armed agents of the state to violate the rights of Americans. While the murder of Garner was horrific, deBlasio was just carrying forward Bloomberg’s style.

  4. Democrats get votes off of the Eric Garners of the world.

  5. For some bizarre and unfathomable reason the more dead black people there are, the more people vote for democrats.

  6. Democrats have this bizarre inability to connect the passing of a law with the need to enforce it (and thus the ultimate consequences of such enforcement).

    1. Subjects shall comply with the edicts of the top men. If not, they will be banned from appearing at their place of work.

      1. #RESIST is dead.

    2. Yes. It is fascinating. I pointed out the problem with more laws to a leftist being that you are giving more license to police for violent interactions, and the first response was that police brutality happens because cops enjoy it (therefore it is disconnected from the laws they are tasked to enforce), and then I must somehow approve of cops potentially killing people over selling "loosies".

      The rank and file really think intentions matter while they still are yelling about systemic racism, which says they do not. Their lack of logic is baffling.

  7. Not to mention legalizing marijuana, and then taxing and regulating the sale to the point where it's so expensive that the illegal market still thrives.

  8. "So, why are congressional Democrats so committed to creating an unknown number of new Eric Garners by massively increasing tobacco excise taxes?"

    Because it's not enough for the modern Democratic Party to gradually move away from its working-class roots. No, the party must become explicitly anti-working-class. There are few more obvious ways to do that than hitting poor cigarette smokers in their wallets. And of course the Democrats' real base — Wall Street, Silicon Valley, movie stars, billionaires — consists of people who either don't smoke, or are so wealthy they won't even notice a couple more bucks per pack.

    Indeed, raising cigarette taxes makes a nice 1 - 2 punch with spying on $600 transactions.


  9. An article on the cigarette tax is just a puff piece.

    1. It’s the butt of many jokes.

    2. Now you're just blowin' smoke up our arses.

    3. These incessant puns are a real drag.

      1. I wish there was a way to filter these comments so I don’t have to read faggy posts! Oh well, there’s no stopping you when you’re on a roll. I’ll just zigzag through these pun posts.

  10. Trust me, taxes like this are not the limiting factor controlling the number of incidents like Garner's. Reason bloggers keep wanting to have it that way, but they're very, very specially pleading.

  11. "Why Do Democrats Want To Create More Eric Garners?"

    To be fair, that's just an unintended side effect of creating a police state. Logically predictable side effect, but definitely "unintended".

    1. Lol police state quit making a victim out of a repeated offender he had a choice to not sell singles but did it repeatedly and then acted like a fool when stopped.

      1. He wasn’t selling loonies when he was killed. The cops just knew him from doing it in the past. They were responding to a call about a fight. Garner was a witness and had helped to break it up. The police proceeded to hassle him and show him what big men they were.

        Now he’s dead. Maybe you can send the cops after a few serial jaywalkers next, and take a few of them out.

  12. The great majority of Democrats don't want a police state. They're Democrats because:

    • They're old and remember the Democrats as the party that instituted Social Security and Medicare that they're now benefiting from.
    • They're middle aged and remember the Democrats as the opposition to the Republicans who chastised them as hippies.
    • They're black and remember the Democrats as the civil rights party and the Republicans who didn't want their votes.
    • They're young and trendy and remember the Democrats as the opposition to the Republicans who fought all the social trends.

    Eventually these habits will turn around, but it may take another generation or two.

    1. The great majority of Democrats don’t want a police state.
      But they continue to vote for those who do for mysterious reasons.

    2. So you're saying the people that vote for them are in favor of a police state.

    3. "They’re black and remember the Democrats as the civil rights party and the Republicans who didn’t want their votes."

      Then they're remembering wrong.

    4. That sounds nice, but the favts don't square with your statement. The facts support the idea that the current DNC will do anything to advance it's goals. Break laws, lie to constituents, create a police state. One need only listen to the endless rhetorical gibberish spewing from any of the party 'leaders' for this to be clear.

  13. A police state comes about only after the police lose a lot of popular support, and when those who still support them feel embattled. It's the step before civil war, but becomes a frank civil war only when the sides are geographically segregated enough and/or can easily identify each other (as by skin color).

    1. That’s not how it worked last time.

    2. This makes no sense whatsoever. You get a police state after people hate them enough? Civil war requires racism and distance? Wtf?

      No, you get police states when the controlling regime makes it so, and when the people allow it.

    3. Can you explain this in an alternate way?

  14. Tuccille deceptively/deceitfully compares a proposed $1/pack increase (up to $2/pack) in the federal cigarette tax (which would further reduce cigarette consumption, especially in low taxed states, while reducing interstate smuggling, which Tuccille appropriately criticizes) to the far higher $6.85/pack cigarette tax rate in New York City (which includes State's tax of $4.35/pack, NYC's tax of $1.50/pack and the $1 federal tax).

    While the combined $5.85/pack tax (by NY and NYC) has created lots of interstate cigarette smuggling (from states that impose a tax of less than $.50/pack), a $1/pack federal tax increase would not increase (and would likely reduce) interstate cigarette smuggling, while reducing cigarette consumption (especially in low taxed states, where smoking rates remain higher).

    1. A $1/pack federal cigarette tax hike is one of the few sound policy proposals made by the Democrats in DC this year.

      Similarly, a carbon tax, while not perfect, is another sound policy proposal made by some Democrats to encourage polluting industries and corporations to reduce carbon emissions (without government mandates that ban fossil fuels extraction and markets).

      A cigarette tax hike and the establishment of a modest carbon tax (at the federal level) are two tax policies that libertarians (and Republicans) should support.

      1. The biggest problem with the Democrats proposal to increase the cigarette tax is that it would also unfairly impose far higher taxes on far less harmful nicotine vapor and dissolvable tobacco products, as well as impose huge and unwarranted tax increases on smokeless tobacco products (which like vapes, are 99% less harmful than cigarettes) and cigars (which are about 90% less harmful than cigarettes).

        Unfortunately for public health, the CDC, US SG, FDA and other DHHS agencies (and their funded state/local health departments) have deceitfully misled the public to believe that ALL tobacco products are just as (or even more) harmful as cigarette smoking for the past 35 years.

        1. Taxes are not meant to be used to guide public behavior.

          1. What bizarro rational world do you live in?

          2. Cigarette tax hikes (and the 1998 State Settlements) are the primary reasons why per capita cigarette consumption has declined by two-thirds during the past 35 years.

            But of course, some people still enjoy watching others die of lung cancer and emphysema.

            1. Compared to disastrous prohibition policies on the manufacture, sale and possession of alcohol, marijuana and other illegal drugs, cigarette tax hikes sharply reduced consumption without causing massive numbers of arrests, incarcerations and destroyed lives.

      2. Interesting take. And by interesting I mean dumb. I don't think libertarian means what you think it does. You might want, and other people might want, a more powerful Nanny/Big Brother State but libertarians favor individual/private property rights. None of what you said jibes with those things.

  15. Give me a break Eric Garner chose to sell cigarettes illegally instead of getting a job and chose to resist and act like a child when arrested cigarette taxes, whether too high or not, are not at fault for what happened to Garner who also had a terrible health profile.

    1. If the taxes had never been imposed or the laws against loosies never passed, Garner never would have run afoul of the law in thr lethal way he did, is the argument.

      1. Yup and a false one because it ignore any agency on the part of Garner in the matter to caste him simply as a victim of a cigarette tax. An honest thesis wouldn’t deign to presume such silliness. They are using him as a prop for the argument.

        1. He wasn’t breaking the law at the time of his death. The cops were not their over loonies.

    2. It's relevant because someone will eventually be killed by police enforcing a mask mandate.

  16. Consequences? We don't need no stinking consequences.

    Democrats (and to be fair, humans, but Democrats certainly more often) govern by feelz.

    Smoking feelz bad, so policy that might curb smoking feelz good. And, of course, mohr taxes always feelz good.

    What happens to poor/black people is another category of feelz, with no connection to other things.

  17. The Democrats want the funding for their new programs to be dependent on taxes supposedly designed to drive the taxed product into disuse, thereby drying up the source of funding.

    Either the Democrats are very bad at reasoning out cause and effect, or they are lying about their intents. Might be both.

    1. It is both.

  18. They care about money. You thought they cared about people? Time to grow up.

  19. Because they want more. It's never enough. Always. More.

  20. Because they hate black people, next question

  21. I have to give the empty headed libertarians credit, they've gotten the hard left on board with a post-police vision of the world. Where every argument about every conceivable law to be enforced can be argued against on the grounds that we won't have confrontations with the police anymore. It's completely wrong and unrealistic, but so it goes.

    The actual policy setting left isn't stupid enough to believe that though, they prioritize ending smoking above "defund the police." And enough of them actually do understand that the more you tax something the less you get of it.

  22. "On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you."

    Part of the problem, Husak suggests, is the growing tendency of legislatures -- including Congress -- to toss in a criminal sanction at the end of countless bills on countless subjects. It’s as though making an offense criminal shows how much we care about it.

    Well, maybe so. But making an offense criminal also means that the police will go armed to enforce it. Overcriminalization matters, Husak says, because the costs of facing criminal sanction are so high and because the criminal law can no longer sort out the law-abiding from the non-law-abiding. True enough. But it also matters because -- as the Garner case reminds us -- the police might kill you.

    I don’t mean this as a criticism of cops, whose job after all is to carry out the legislative will. The criticism is of a political system that takes such bizarre delight in creating new crimes for the cops to enforce. It’s unlikely that the New York legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they’re so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants.

    [Stephen L. Carter]

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