Monday, September 13, 2010

Ask a stupid question about smokers... (Publicus Proventus)

... get a stupid answer. Or get no answer, as Slate did when it ran an article headlined Why do most cigarette smokers tolerate massive state tax increases? Slate's answer? Gosh, we don't know.

To be fair, Slate appears to actually be using the question to begin beating the drum for raising taxes an inordinate amount without any economic harm, so not answering the question its headline posed might be excusable... except that the question was so dumb in the first place, and except that trying to analyze tax policy using smokers as a guide is terribly wrongheaded, and here's why:

Smokers are addicted.

According to the University of Minnesota website, nicotine is 5-10 times more addictive and potent than cocaine and morphine. Everyone knows (from watching New Jack City) what crack addiction does; it's no surprise that smokers will tolerate paying high prices to support their addictions.

(What is surprising is that smokers never seem to vote against anyone who votes to raise taxes on them. Mention that you might increase property taxes by 40% to benefit schools, and 1000 irate property owners storm the castle. Mention that you're going to increase taxes 1,800%, as New York did on smokers, and smokers shrug and light up another one.)

Smoking is addictive; it's highly addictive. And cigarettes are the only product I know of that, used exactly the way the manufacturer suggests, kills you. That's another reason why asking why smokers tolerate tax increases is a dumb question. The real question is why do we let cigarettes be sold at all.

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