Blog written by Morgan Smith

Governments are engaged in a constant battle between taxing and spending. The battle is waged each year, dating from when taxes were first levied by governments, as a means of paying for services needed by their constituents.

Elected officials are always struggling to come up with new ways to not alienate constituents, keeping everyone moderately happy enough to ensure their re-election. This is especially true when it comes to the subject of taxes. How many times have you witnessed campaign rhetoric announcing “candidate X raised taxes XX times, hurting working families,” or “candidate Y, cut services for (insert large issue group here, i.e. seniors, children, working mothers, etc.)”

The truth is, constituents want the services they depend on without having to pay for them. So what is an elected official to do?

Increasingly, you find a way to heavily tax items, products, or services which are used by a minority of your constituents. 

Enter cigarettes, gambling, and other “unsavory activities”

While I think cigarettes are terrible for you, and I don’t smoke, I think government is getting a little out of control, relying on raising the price of cigarettes $1 per pack to fund critical state programs.

Take, for example, the proposed tax increase on cigarettes in Massachusetts.

Gov. Patrick wants to raise the price of cigarettes $1 per pack to help stabilize the state’s new mandatory health insurance plan.  As stated by the New York Times, “Supporters emphasize that in addition to providing revenue, increases in tobacco taxes are proven to drive down smoking rates, particularly among youths who may find that they cannot afford to start.”

But if the new taxes discourage smoking, where do the taxes come from to pay for the programs when there are no longer enough smokers to foot the bill?

The governments are using spin to justify the reason for levying the new taxes and, frankly, doing a great member of their constituents a disservice by unfairly shifting the tax burden to smoker’s shoulders. Effectively the government is are talking out of both sides of its mouth, saying they don’t like smoking and people shouldn’t do it on one hand, but then making smoking a necessary component of funding government programs. If lawmakers really wanted to stop smoking, they would invest that money in anti-smoking programs. That way, the program would phase itself out as people quit.

Raising taxes on smokers is just a short fix for a problem plaguing governments for centuries. All we need to do to fix the problem is elect legislators who aren’t afraid doing the right thing will get them voted out. After all, aren’t we supposed to hold our elected officials to a higher standard?