Tobacco tax is a deep well government uses for cash

Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I just got done reading the article on the state Web site about Gov. Murkowski introducing legislation calling for a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes. Murkowski goes on to say that, "This bill will raise revenues to the state, which currently collects only $47 million in tobacco taxes, an amount that doesn't even begin to cover the state's actual costs of tobacco-related illnesses. And, as statistics show, increasing the tax will reduce smoking, especially among teenagers, who are very sensitive to increases in price."

Only $47 million? How does one figure the costs of tobacco-related illnesses? If, indeed, this latest tax will reduce smoking, especially among teenagers, then how does the governor expect to actually raise another $35.5 million dollars? If this formula is true, then by reducing the number of smokers in the state there will be even less money raised in taxes. So if you follow this logic, and I use that term lightly, taxes will have to be raised again and again to compensate for the amount of money that is not being spent because fewer people will be smoking. None of this makes a lick of sense to me.

First of all, adding another tax to a pack of cigarettes is not going to stop people from smoking. It may have that effect on a few people, yes ... but not enough to make a substantial difference. Taxes have been added to tobacco products for years and you'll notice that tobacco sales are still booming. People are not going to stop smoking unless they truly want to. I smoked for 26 years and the reason I quit had nothing to do with higher prices. I would scrounge the money up any way that I could to be able to have my pack of smokes.

One other point I'd like to make: I hear commercials all the time about "Buy Alaska," extolling the virtues of keeping the money in the state, which on the surface is a good and reasonable request. The price of tobacco products in Alaska, as well as numerous other items, is already substantially higher than in the Lower 48. With online purchases of tobacco products becoming more and more available, what makes you think that tobacco users are going to keep allowing themselves to get ripped off by not only the local merchants, but by their own government as well?

The tobacco tax has become nothing but a deep well for the governments to dig into every time they want more money. When governments start talking about raising another $35.5 million dollars in taxes annually from a select group of citizens, it brings up the question of what is really behind the tax in the first place. What is this extra money going to be used for? Social programs? Tobacco education? The general fund? Why is it that lawmakers around the country continue to tax a select group of people? That would be considered discrimination in any other circumstance.

Maybe next time the governor can excessively tax anyone who paints their house some awful shade of blue. Yes, that would be ludicrous ... but so is excessively taxing anyone who smokes just so the coffers of the state can be filled.

• J. Marc Mulkey lives in Juneau.

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