Monday, September 24, 2012

1074 Smoke and Soak the Poor

1074 Smoke and Soak the Poor

Now we have figures for the other side.  For years we’ve been bombarded with statistics that “prove” smoking causes everything from lung cancer to heart attacks to ingrown toenails.  Second hand smoke causes its own list of diseases, causes global warming and turns infants into little drug addicts.

And everyone -- everyone -- who doesn’t smoke is (often suddenly) allergic to it. (Do they even have a scratch test for this at the allergist’s?)

We’ve all heard that American workers who smoke cost as much in medical bills, lost work time and productivity as the GDP of Bulgaria.

So the smoking cessation business has grown into a big bucks “save the people, save the planet” industry.  Take a look at big pharma stocks if you don’t believe this.  And look at the ads for non-pharmaceutical smoke stopping products.  Patches, gum, lozenges, homeopathic potions, electronic cigarettes where you puff heated air, herbal cigarettes, electroshock therapy, plaster casts for your hands, hypnosis and handcuffs.

But the government had a better idea:  “let’s tax them out of smoking.”  How well this works is in doubt.  About how much income comes in is not.

In New York City where the local tax is $1.50 a pack and the combined city, state and federal taxes can raise the cost of a pack to $12, revenue is down, but still a nice chunk of change according to the New York Post.

Who is hit hardest by this?  Here’s a hint.  If Mayor Bloomberg still puffed, twelve bucks a pack wouldn’t be much of a dent in his personal budget.  And Sam Newhouse can probably pick that much out from under his couch cushions on a Sunday morning.

But what about Big Donnie from Melrose, the South Bronx, whose income was about $9,000 last year?  That’s about $173.00 a week, also available in couch cushions each Sunday morning not too many miles away.  The Donnies of the world spend 25 percent of their income on cigarettes.  This from a study conducted by what used to be called the Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina, but now goes by "RTI."

The term “social smoker” is a lie.  You’re either hard core or you don’t smoke at all.  Next time someone tells you “Gawsh, I just have one every once in awhile.  But the other day I was having a drink with friends at an outdoor bar and I went through half a pack in a few hours.  That’s gotta stop.”  Sure.

Minimum wage smokers will buy cigarettes before food, before beer, before baby formula and before paying the rent.

A modest proposal.  Since we are requiring picture i.d. for just about everything, let’s go one step further:  Bring your W-2 to the 7-11 and be charged on a sliding scale.  Twelve bucks a pack for people who are paid, say,  $100,000 a year and up.  Less and less income sinks the price lower and lower.

But we have to be careful.  You never know when someone will start selling forged W-2s.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2012

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