Wisconsin is by no means the exception. After all, the Badger State only adopted the 5th highest cigarette taxes in the country when the budget raised the tax on a pack of smokes by 75 cents. New York City (independent of New York state) has more than $4 of taxes on every pack.
All across the country, state governments are looking to the sorriest, poorest bastards for tax revenue. Health care programs are a popular excuse. It’s easy to market because the two issues are related. The government is going to make people healthier – and its method of doing so will also make people healthier by deterring smoking. The paradox is that if people’s smoking habits are actually affected by cigarette taxes, then the revenue generated from the tobacco taxes decreases and the government has to find something else to tax. However, a good counter-argument is that decreasing rates of smoking will naturally be accompanied by decreasing rates of smoking-related illnesses, ahem, health care costs. Smoking is still considered the leading cause of preventable death in America, therefore, such a case cannot be overstated.
However, if prevention is the priority, isn’t it puzzling that the same budget that raised tobacco taxes cut funding for tobacco prevention programs by 55 percent?
Well, if you’re Gov. Doyle, the reasoning is simple. We had to cut. Taxes = money for government and Funding = money spent by government. But in terms of effectiveness which one is better?
I would say the most crucial aspect of tobacco education came in elementary school, when teachers made it clear that smoking was not only bad for you, but somehow vaguely evil. Hey it worked. I don’t smoke and I know practically nobody who smokes regularly. Many people still have that logic buried deep in their subconscious and regard smoking as something sinister, something that only a low-life who does not value his own life would do. I’m convinced that that process is more effective than any independent smoking prevention program.
However, there are slightly more adventurous people in our generation. People who tried a cigarette and enjoyed the effect – smoke them occasionally when they’ve got an booze buzz going. They know that cigarettes aren’t instantaneously addictive, but they also know that because of changing attitudes toward smoking, they have no desire to become regular smokers. Smoking is no longer simply a lifestyle choice, it is a guilty pleasure. That’s where the cigarette taxes come in. The taxes prevent these casual smokers from indulging in their guilty pleasure to the extent that they would years ago. You might try to bum a cigarette off somebody at a bar or take a couple drags off of somebody else’s, but do you really want to spend $8 for a whole pack?
Hence, the education, the smoking bans, and the taxes represent a three-pronged attack against cigarette smoking. The education has long since diminished our levels of smoking in comparison with Europe, where, at least in France, smoking was until recently considered about as unhealthy as taking your espresso with a cube of sugar.
Once the smoking stigma developed in the younger generations, especially generation y, it was only a matter of time before the smoking bans drove tobacco use even further down the social ladder. Smoking is no longer a cigarette held lazily in a hand with a beer, but an awkward obligation to stand outside in the cold and get “your fix.” That creates solidarity among smokers but only if there are indeed other smokers around.
The taxes are simply the death-knell to an already battered industry.