Match This for Stupidity: Taxing a House of Cards

My wife is a smoker. Except for one year when she quit, she’s been a smoker since she was about 18. But she’s cut back, from as many as three packs a day to just three cigarettes. And, she now smokes outside the house.

At various times, she was asked to show an ID. When in her 20s she saw it as an annoyance. By her 30s and 40s, it was a compliment. Now it’s just downright annoying.

The law restricts persons under 18 years of age from buying or smoking cigarettes. My wife understands why she must be “carded.”

Yesterday she was carded when she wanted to buy two lighters. The sweet lady at the grocery checkout counter said that the chain store is carding everyone who buys lighters. Something about a juvenile who used a lighter and accidentally set his house on fire.

The law doesn’t say a person must be at least 18 to buy a cigarette lighter. But, the reasoning is that people buy cigarette lighters to — well — light cigarettes. Therefore, cigarette lighters — which can be used for many things other than to light up—also must be controlled. So, every adult, from the 20s to the gray-haired elderly, will also be “carded” when they buy lighters.

If this restrictive and selective enforcement continues, we might soon see stores carding people who buy cups, because they could be used to hold beer. Anyone who buys watermelons would be carded since plugged, spiked, and corked watermelons are a delightful summer treat. Jello, once promoted by all-American “dad” Bill Cosby, would be suspect, since there aren’t many college parties without Jello shots.

Unlike the sale of cigarettes and liquor, there is no age restriction on most foods. So, various health-nut organizations and not-so-bright legislators have decided to tax foods they don’t think are acceptable. Several legislators have tried, but so far have failed, to enact legislation that would tax high-calorie foods. New York Gov. David Patterson wants to levy a 15 percent tax on any juice or drink except diet sodas, bottled water, coffee, tea, and milk.

Eventually, we’ll see a special “obesity tax” placed against anything sold at a fast food restaurant.

When you break through the smoke and mirrors, governments really don’t care about anyone’s health. They do care about ways to generate revenue. Gov. Patterson readily acknowledges that the “obesity tax” in New York would generate about $400 million additional revenue. New York also leads the nation in cigarette taxes. A smoker in New York City pays about $9 per pack, which includes a 39 cents federal tax, a $2.75 state tax, a $1.50 city tax, plus an 8 percent sales tax on top of everything else. Chicago is second, with taxes totaling $3.66 a pack. States and the federal government collect about $26 billion a year in cigarette taxes, according to a New York Times report in August 2008.

Liquor taxes aren’t meant to make anyone healthy, except the state economy. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a five cent a drink tax that, had the legislature not tabled the suggestion, would have raised $600 million a year. Overall, the federal government collected more than $9 billion in taxes, while states collected an additional $6 billion, according to a comprehensive analysis published in June 2007 by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

With budgets being pumped up by numerous “sin taxes,” it won’t be long until someone figures out they need not only to card buyers of cigarette lighters, cups, watermelons, and Jello, but that there also needs to be special excise taxes upon these products as well.

*The assistance of Rosemary R. Brasch is appreciated

Walter Brasch, during a 40-year work career in mass communications, has been a member of several unions, in both the private and public sectors. He is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, and his latest Fracking Pennsylvania. He can be contacted at: walterbrasch@gmail.com. Read other articles by Walter, or visit Walter's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Dogwood said on January 29th, 2009 at 2:49pm #

    While I would wholeheartedly agree with many of your points, on the whole, however, isn’t it reasonable to tax those items only that are indeed a direct and documented harm to society? Specifically, alcohol and tobacco. Assuredly ridiculous: the lighters, the juice, etc. But you might want to be careful in lumping together the ridiculous items to be taxed along with the very sound and reasonable items. I’m not the first to point out how much more just and financially sound we as a society would be if we did not tax things we need and want – like income; but did tax things that we, as a society, either do not need, or want, or which can cause direct harm – like tobacco, alcohol, and so much more – like, most for instance, Wall Street speculation. The most minute tax on Wall Street speculation would bring in 10′s of billions of dollars per year – and all this nonsense about taxing lighters would be understandably laughable. But Obama tax Wall Street speculation? If people reading this are still in the dark as to where Obama’s alliegences lay, especially in this time of financial disaster, simply seriously and honestly ponder that simple question….

  2. Eddie said on January 29th, 2009 at 5:25pm #

    No. It’s not fair. I don’t smoke. My grandfather did. You think the smoking tax is fair? Really? My father — first generation US (from Mexico) — lived on nickles and dimes (Social Security). You want to pretend that blanket tax was fair to him as it was to some rich person? Hey, if you want to argue flat tax, go for it. But I believe that’s an idea that people like Steve Forbes usually push. We’re supposed to want a progressive tax. Except when it comes to the so-called ‘sins’ and those ‘sin’ taxes always hit the poor the hardest.

  3. Dogwood said on January 29th, 2009 at 8:05pm #

    Eddie,

    Not taxing income, and taxing Wall Street speculation – with a serious government for the people behind these initiatives – would financially help your father and the poor tons more than any elimination of a cigarette tax. Indeed, these and other initiatives, such as Single Payer health care (considering that most personal bankruptcies in this country are due to medical bills that financially impoverish and devastate entire families) would go quite a way to actually ending poverty.

    I completely understand the injustice that drives your point. There are excellent, all-encompassing solutions to these problems. I’ve mentioned a few. The tragedy is that an Obama presidency will not lead the way toward these solutions – so we must.

    For more information on these solutions, go to votenader.org. I believe the site is still up. It’s imperative to know the easily implemented solutions available to our current and increasing problems – if, and only if, we have governmental branches serious about addressing them.

    And if you’re as outraged as you justifiably sound, and want to do something about it, go to november5.org and sign up. Single Payer will be the first issue of a country-wide citizens group forming to hold congressional feet to the peoples fire on solutions to issues that the people demand but that our corporate government would rather ignore. Obama won’t do it. We have to.

  4. Tree said on January 30th, 2009 at 6:38am #

    If the government wants to make more money they should legalize drugs–then heavily tax them. Just think of the possibilities…

  5. Dan Coyle said on January 30th, 2009 at 11:48am #

    This article just further proves my theory that all hard leftists are no-government, no-accountability libertarians to the core.

  6. Al said on January 30th, 2009 at 11:50pm #

    Since there is no Universal Health care in the USA, the government has no business taxing tobacco & alcohol.

  7. Bob McCafferty said on January 31st, 2009 at 6:59pm #

    They should tax the profits of the Oil Companies, and other so called American companies. They have our young men and women fight, kill and get killed for their profits. If Iraq had no oil we would not be there, and if Aghanistan was not to be a country that a gas pipeline was to go through for Unocal, we would not be there.
    There is far more damage done to our society by the transnational corporate, and financial institutions that all the alcohol, and tobacco ever used caused. As those secret societies, that President Kennedy warned us about, want-regressive taxes.
    We even are taxed by private industries, such as the insurance industry, and our taxpayer paid police force enforces it. It is called mandated auto insurance.