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Volume 72, Issue 95, Monday, February 19, 2007

Opinion

Tax revenue doesn't make smoking healthy 

Christian Palmer
Opinion Columnist

Surely, most of us can concede that, at the very least, smoking is not very good for us. People die of lung and other cancers every day and, as annoying as they may be, those TRUTH advertisements can raise suspicion of the nasty little habit that about 20 percent of American adults (and who knows how many children) share today.

For health reasons -- and maybe some political ones, too -- some 19 states have placed restrictions on where people can smoke and billions of dollars are collected every year from smokers in the form of cigarette taxes, one of "the most socially acceptable form of taxes you can raise," Bob Kurtter, a state budget watcher at Moody's Investors Service, told the Associated Press.

Perhaps with the help of such restrictions and taxes, along with increasingly ubiquitous health warnings, all kinds of polls and statistics are saying that cigarette smoking is on the decline. The state of Minnesota anticipates the passing of the Freedom to Breathe Act, which would ban smoking in public places, in the next election round. For non-smokers and health nuts, the legislation is a proverbial breath of fresh air, but a variety of parties are not so keen on the idea -- and smokers are not even the most vocal.

"The taxes on smoking are being used to fund education; they're being used to fund health care; they're being used to fund real things," Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Minn., told the AP. "Now, if we eliminate smoking, does it mean that those things go away?"

Despite rising cigarette taxes, less actual revenue from those taxes is being collected because people are smoking less, either by force or by choice. So, to answer the senator's question, there could be some impact. However, these taxes constitute just a sliver of states' money pools and the blow could be cushioned by more substantial parts of the budget. 

Not to mention, using taxes collected from cigarettes to subsidize things like health care and education seems counter-productive anyway. According to Minnesota's Department of Human Services, about 647,000 people on Medicaid and such programs require nearly $300 million to combat illnesses brought on by cigarettes. 

The Environmental Protection Agency puts lung cancer-related deaths for non-smokers in the 3,000 ballpark and even more have to live with it.

Also, if the same kids who participate in Drug Abuse Resistance Education programs in school found out that cigarettes made their education possible, it could all but render these programs ineffective.

Some say, "less smoking is less smoking, and that's good, regardless." Still others say the restriction of smoking -- a legal activity -- is a violation of personal and property rights. Even others say smoking in public is not a personal choice, but one a person makes for everyone around them. Yet another group claims the ban on smoking will upset their clientele and destroy their businesses. 

The the argument boils down to -- like many others -- compromise. In coming to any conclusions, we have to weigh public safety and individual health against individual liberties and the health of the economy. It is not always easy to balance such things. As a matter of fact, the stress is enough to make smokers of us all.

Palmer, a communication/sociology junior, 
can be reached at christianapalmer@gmail.com.

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