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July 26, 2007

McConnell's tobacco ties

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) surprised observers by coming out against legislation that would expand state-based health insurance for children by taxing tobacco.

David Donnelly of campaignmoney.org notes that McConnell has received a lot of money from the tobacco industry over the course of his career, $257, 725. That's more than any other sitting senator except Richard Burr (R-NC).

Frankly, I'm not convinced that a tobacco tax is the best way to fund S-CHIP. As Mark Kleiman says, a tobacco tax burdens old, poor smokers for the sake of child health insurance.  Increasing the cost of cigarettes might also have other unintended consequences such as an increase in smuggling.

I would rather see the extra CHIP money come from general revenue, but that option isn't on the table yet.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. The benefits of extending health insurance to millions of American children appear to outweigh the disadvantages of singling out smokers to pick up the tab.

The Republicans are terrified of this initiative because they rightly see it as an incremental step towards single-payer health care. That possibility itself is a reason to support the S-CHIP legislation. We can work out a better funding scheme for a larger and more ambitious program in the future.

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Comments

It's probably worth noting that old, poor smokers are probably an especially large portion of McConnell's constituency. (My parents live in Kentucky--rest of this is based partly on observation.) I have never seen another place where as large a portion of adults smoke as rural Kentucky, which is quite poor, and skewed toward older people. (A lot of young people move away, because there are so few jobs.)

My mother is an old, poor smoker.

She happens to live in Canada, where cigarette taxes are very high.

I am glad the cigarettes are expensive. It's one more piece of ammunition in my constant efforts to convince her and help her to quit.

If you think that smoking is a "harmless" habit for older people, you don't know what you're talking about.

I realize that there are some old, poor smokers who don't have anyone to help them, and who may be so addicted that they compromise on things like nutrition. I also realize that it's very hard for people to quit a lifelong habit.

But overall, you don't help old, poor smokers by giving them cheap cigarettes. You could help them by giving them free smoking cessation programs.

Smoking is "back". Most of my younger friends smoke cigarettes from time to time. Probably most of them smoke every day, even though they don't (yet) chain smoke the way earlier generations did. I have no problem with informed adults choosing to use tobacco.

But it's hard to make a case against taxing it for children's health insurance. I think the claim that anyone, old poor smokers or anyone else, is helped by cheap cigarettes, is a real stretch.

The "old poor smokers" argument carries a lot of weight. One of the less savory aspects of tobacco taxes is the sense that many supporters of such taxes have that smokers deserve to be punished.

I don't like the idea of funding vitally necessary social programs by taxing the sale of addictive drugs that kill their victims slowly. The government thereby gains an interest in supporting drug addiction as a social institution, encouraging people to become addicted and discouraging addicts from getting clean.

I'd have less of a problem with this if it was the only way to get the funding, but I don't believe they even tried to get the monies out of general revenue in the first place. That should have been the first stop in funding S-CHIP, because children's health services should be the duty of every taxpaying American.

Instead of making the case that it should be a part of general revenue, the people putting the proposal through are trying to do it in a way that affects the smallest number of potential voters, and ones who are "unpopular" with the non-smoking populace (of which I am a part) because they don't want to have to take any political heat for "raising taxes".

But whatever you think of smokers, a tax on cigarettes is a regressive tax on a demographically poorer segment of the populace, sort of like a sales tax only even more punitive to the addicted masses. I'm with Kleiman.

I see some people are making the assumption that making cigarettes more expensive "punishes" smokers. This implies that the condition of being a smoker is either hopelessly irreversible, or a relative "reward", compared to not smoking.

I sympathize with the concern expressed, and I realize that elderly, poor smokers were enticed to become addicted by cheap cigarettes and ubiquitous ads, years before they could foresee that cigarettes would become more expensive.

Nevertheless, I don't see an argument that cheaper cigarettes benefit any group of people.

A tax on basic food items would clearly be regressive and punish poor people. A tax that encourages them to smoke less is less obviously a "punishment".

The fact that smoking, along with the health problems it causes, tends to be somewhat concentrated on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, is not something our society should be proud of, nor resist making an effort to change.

Smoking is something people do almost solely because they're addicted. Cigarettes really are one of the sleaziest products out there. (It's not uncommon, at least in my experience, to see people rail about "corporate" malfeasance, and, ironically, light up a cigarette at virtually the same time.)

I do agree that this legislation is imperfect, because it does not also provide for expanded free smoking cessation programs.

I have no problem with informed people smoking; I have my own bad habits. (I'm not sure how informed people actually are. Tobacco companies have used the "lung cancer" issue in a crafty way, causing many Americans to be ignorant of the fact that smoking is associated with far more common diseases, such as heart disease, strokes, emphysema and bronchitis, as well as a variety of other cancers.)

In fact, I pretty much think all use of intoxicants of any kind should be legal and "unpunished". However, I also believe in progressive taxation for the common good. Taxing cigarettes is regressive in the sense that it hits people of all incomes, but it serves the common good both by providing money for good programs, and by discouraging the use of a sleazy and harmful product. I have no problem with drugs being legal, but I don't see why they should be legal and untaxed.

This round of legislation is typical of how our society manages to pit the most vulnerable groups against each other. The Democrats who wrote this legislation realized that it would be easier to pass the legislation if they created a new tax on a socially stigmatized group, instead of fighting to fund this program out of general revenue or lobbying for an extra tax on, say, the rich.

I still think that the country will be better off overall with a cigarette tax hike that results in 11 million children having health care when they wouldn't otherwise. Once the program is in place, and popular, the Democrats might have the option of retooling the funding model--especially if they can leverage this kind of achievement to safeguard or increase their majority in the next election.

The idea that this tax burden will ever be shifted to general revenue if it can be maintained through cigarette taxes is a fantasy.

I don't care if taxes are raised on cigarettes if the purpose for that is to discourage smoking. My problem with this is that it's something the country will "do" without a shared sacrifice. Everyone should be invested in the health of the nation's children. By pushing the tax off on a minority of society, everyone else gets to feel good about having done the "right thing" to fund children't health without actually having to do anything.

"Iraq war? I support the war but don't want to fight it. Children's health? Great idea so long as someone else is paying for it. NIMPB (not in my pocketbook)."

It's the health care equivalent of chickenhawkism.

I wonder why the tax isn't on cigarette company profits?

A tax on pot would be OK as well, then?

"We can work out a better funding scheme for a larger and more ambitious program in the future."

The problem with this thought process is that the tax remains in place. Once a revenue source is implemented it is rarely revoked.

It is nice that there's one segment of the population so many feel that it is absolutely wonderful to use suck dry because they want to spank smokers so hard for being totally naughty children. That way the majority of American citizen's never have to actually get up off their lazy asses and really participate. They can still say "we did this and made those bastard smokers pay for it. Aren't we awesome?"

Hello Silver Owl - libertarian concern troll. Dude/ette...you couldn't make a right turn on a city street without the government...and taxes.

I sometimes smoke a cigar. This proposed tax would increase some of the taxes on cigars exorbitantly. I say we tax ice cream and other products that have proven adverse health effects. Please leave my occasional cigar alone.

Can I get a "second" on a bacon tax?

Niccine: a new approach to quit smoking This is a different approach to the quit smoking problem similiar to by the drug maker Pfizer's Chantix


Swedish anti-nicotine vaccine to be tested in Nordic countries "A Swedish vaccine against nicotine will be tested on 400 people in three Nordic countries,"

Heavy smokers who would like to quit, will get counselling along with the new drug, initial test will run for 4 months.

Niccine is supposed to help the immune system build antibodies against nicotine. Interesting approach to the problem:

Niccine will latch onto the incoming nicotine and preventing it from reaching the brain's reward system, thereby preventing the smoker from getting that addictive smoking "kick" or hit.


Niccine, has been developed over the course of 10 years by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute, under the guidance of professor Torgny Svensson who founded Independent Pharmaceutica.

This is a different approach to the quit smoking problem used by Pfizer's Chantix


should I use Chantix or wait for Niccine ?

Quit smoking, smoking cessation drugs,smoking cessation medicine

www.chantix-smoking.blogspot.com

should I use Chantix or wait for Niccine ?

Niccine: a new approach to quit smoking This is a different approach to the quit smoking problem similiar to by the drug maker Pfizer's Chantix Swedish anti-nicotine vaccine to be tested in Nordic countries "

A Swedish vaccine against nicotine will be tested on 400 people in three Nordic countries," Heavy smokers who would like to quit, will get counselling along with the new drug, initial test will run for 4 months.

Niccine is supposed to help the immune system build antibodies against nicotine. Interesting approach to the problem: Niccine will latch onto the incoming nicotine and preventing it from reaching the brain's reward system, thereby preventing the smoker from getting that addictive smoking "kick" or hit. Niccine, has been developed over the course of 10 years by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute, under the guidance of professor Torgny Svensson who founded Independent Pharmaceutica. This is a different approach to the quit smoking problem used by Pfizer's Chantix


should I use Chantix or wait for Niccine ? Quit smoking, smoking cessation drugs,smoking cessation medicine

www.chantix-smoking.blogspot.com

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