Proposed smoking tax shouldn’t get support

By By Zach Edmunds and By Zach Edmunds

By Zach Edmunds

The American Cancer Society has created a campaign to raise the sales tax on cigarettes in Utah by $2 a pack, which would make Utah the most heavily taxed state for cigarettes.

According to the Federation of Tax Administrators Web site, Utah’s current cigarette sales tax, at 70 cents per pack, ranks No. 34 among all states. Topping the list are states like New Jersey and Rhode Island, which tax their residents $2.58 and $2.46 per pack respectively.

The campaign is looking for support everywhere. On the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Web site, there is a pre-written letter on which visitors can fill in personal information, which ACSCAN later mails to the Utah Legislature in support of the tax increase.

Former news anchor Dick Nourse is also a spokesman for the campaign, lending his voice for automated phone calls. Nourse’s call includes anti-smoking statements such as, “Whether you smoke or not, you are paying more in health care costs because of smoking.”

ACSCAN’s letter is effective, bringing the issue home to families with a statement that there are 16,000 youths between the ages of 12 and 18 who smoke in Utah. They also try to hit you where it really hurts8212;your wallet8212;with this statement: “Families in Utah pay $535 each year in state and federal taxes for tobacco-related costs whether they smoke or not. During these hard economic times, Utahns can no longer afford to keep covering the costs for smoking.”

These are great statistics ACSCAN is using to tug on the hearts and wallets of Utah families. Targeting sensitive issues such as finances and health care is sure to alienate the already unpopular activity among non-smokers.

The problem with the campaign is not that ACSCAN wants people to stop smoking, but it wants to do this based on the fact that it feels smokers are not being held responsible for the cost they are putting on health care.

There are many unhealthy habits that people have that add to the cost of health care, and smoking is just one of them. Maybe people who exercise regularly and take care of their bodies should be able tax the overweight and obese by taxing junk food or taxing people for not exercising. Maybe that isn’t so far off. If heavy taxes such as the proposed increase on the cigarette tax can be approved, what would stop Utah from increasing alcohol taxes, or taxing just about anything in a “sin tax” fashion?

As somebody who has smoked, even though I knew it was unhealthy, I know it is hard to quit. Last year, a bill to raise the tax by 50 cents was defeated in the Legislature. Because of hard economic times, proponents of heavier smoking taxes are taking advantage of the opportunity to use smokers as a source of cash, or at least to present them as one.

Instead, ACSCAN needs to focus on actually helping smokers quit, instead of taxing smokers because they don’t agree with their choices. Most importantly, anti-smoking groups need to keep targeting the makers of cigarettes, who, despite an ever-increasing number of lawsuits, still make large sums of money off their extremely addictive product.

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Zach Edmunds