Cigarette Taxes

Part II   Intellectual Honesty


In case you didn't read Part I, I don't smoke cigarettes.

Cigarette smoking causes and contributes to many serious diseases. There's no doubt about that. This fact, accepted by everyone, has caused a major declined in smoking over the past 3 decades; but 25% of adults continue to smoke. Since the simple truth has not eradicated smoking, anti-smoking zealots are bombarding the media with dubious claims and faulty logic.

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, protecting the children in their first refuge. The government has passed increasingly strict laws against selling cigarettes to minors. The last law required merchants to check the identification of cigarette purchasers under 28. Some municipalities have hired teenage undercover agents to attempt to buy cigarettes so that they can prosecute store owners. If Hitler or Stalin had used teenage agent provacateurs to root out Jews or counterrevolutionaries, Americans would probably be horrified; apparently cigarette sellers are so evil that no tactic is too despicable to use against them.

Cigarette smoking causes diseases, but it doesn't cause disease among teenagers or young people. Your chances of getting a smoking related illness before 50 are practically 0. The logic behind banning teenage smoking is that they will smoke for 40 or 50 years and then get sick in their 60s or 70s. If the government were serious about preventing disease, it would make it a crime for anyone over 50 to smoke. But such a law would be politically unpopular. It's easier to hide behind protecting the children than to face the real problem.

The anti-smoking forces have convinced the American people that second hand smoke causes serious diseases. There is no evidence of this claim. The statistical studies contain such imprecise measures of exposure to smoke that they are worthless. (Is the non-smoking spouse of a smoker exposed to more passive smoke than the average person?)  Nevertheless, these studies do not show that second-hand smoke causes illness. Certain isolated studies do show a weak correlation between second hand smoke and disease. Other studies that don't show a correlation are simply ignored. The fact that Americans believe that this correlation exists is a testimonial to the dishonesty of anti-smoking spokespeople and casts doubt on much of the tobacco related studies now being conducted. According to the surgeon general's report, non-inhaling pipe smokers live longer than nonsmokers. Why not make pipe smoking compulsory and outlaw inhaling. Such a law would probably please Clinton who smokes Arturo Fuente cigars, where he is allowed to.

Ralph Nader's group succeeded in forcing manufacturers to add a warning label to smokeless tobacco, snuff and chewing tobacco. This label states that the product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. In reality chewing tobacco and snuff are relatively safe alternatives to inhaling tobacco smoke. I have heard of individuals who used smokeless tobacco and contracted oral cancer; but I haven't seen or heard of any studies showing that smokeless tobacco is correlated to serious disease.

Let's say that Nader's warning labels scare 100,000 people away from all tobacco use. However, the labels convince 1000 people to keep smoking cigarettes because "smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative." Given the dangers of inhaling to not inhaling, more death would be caused by label than its absence. Let's compare smoking and sexual matters. Here's the analogy: The government mounts a campaign to discourage the use of condums in sexual relations because, "the use of condums is not a safe alternative to abstinence in the prevention of AIDS."

Those who favor increasing the cigarette tax use the rhetoric of the anti-smoking movement. "Use" is the right word. Politicians have big plans for the money generated by the cigarette tax. These plans depend on continued cigarette smoking. The prohibition party opposed the taxation of alcohol for a just this reason: If the government had become dependent on alcohol tax revenues, it would have had a vested interest against prohibition.

The economic justification for raising cigarette tax is that smoking raises public health costs. Of course, studies vastly overestimate health costs. For instance, they include a hefty tab for "passive smoking" despite the fact no individual disease has been proven to have been caused by second hand smoke. The real trick in these studies is even more obvious. The studies assume that smokers would have no health costs if they didn't smoke. In fact, they might live longer and incur even greater costs if they didn't smoke. In other words, they compare a smoker's bills to those of a person who never uses medical care at all.

This intellectual dishonesty is by no means confined to the war on cigarettes. One or more of these tricks can be seen in almost all crusades to expand the size of government.