If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.
Of Smoking and Freedom
On February 5, John Miller had an interesting article published in the Idaho Statesman that led with fact that Representative Bob Nonini, chairman of the House Education Committee, is the last 'open' tobacco smoker in the legislature, a fact he tries to conceal. The article examines the juxtaposition of lawmakers who have incorporated the message that tobacco is a dangerous product, yet have such an ideologically entrenched aversion to raising taxes, they won't consider it as a method to discourage people from smoking.
Most Idaho conservatives have a stronger aversion to government overreach and tax hikes than they have to cigarettes, even ex-smokers such as Challis Republican Rep. Lenore Barrett.
"What we're doing is whipping on folks who are making stupid choices," Barrett says. "They have a right to make those stupid choices."
Highlighting how deeply those sentiments run, Democrats last year failed to win even a hearing when they proposed raising cigarette taxes from 57 cents to $1.25 per pack.
This sentiment was echoed in a recent debate in Boise when it passed additional restrictions on areas where smoking is allowed than the state restrictions already in place. Opponents of the ban bleated that such restrictions were an encroachment on their freedom to using a "legal" product, while utilizing the lofty, yet ignorance based, terminology reminiscent of the the Tea Party movement. This isn't about freedom. Its a defense of a toxic product heavily marketed by a powerful industry.
Rep. Barrett's quote is embarrassing on a couple levels. As a legislator, she's charged with making choices for the benefit of Idaho's citizens. Her comment belies what cigarettes are, which according to the Surgeon General is "the major single cause of cancer mortality [death] in the United States." More importantly its a dangerous product the industry intentionally laces with substances to increase its addictive qualities. So when Lenore says its a "choice" to pick up a cigarette to smoke it, its a choice initiated and influenced by millions of dollars of predatory marketing without regard for the product's lethal qualities. After the initial choice is made, then it becomes an addiction so powerful, people spend as much as 20% of their income to continue the addiction. So when she says its a choice, its a choice she's made to protect a powerful predatory industry's revenue stream, not the welfare of her constituents.
Her 'nanny state' concerns aside, Representative Barrett was sent to the legislature as an avowed fiscal conservative. In spite of decades of headlines surrounding years of litigation, she's apparently unaware of the devastating costs to, not only the smokers, but to government, in the form of health care costs due to the severe consequences smoking has on the body. According to the Center for Disease Control, the U.S. suffers from the following costs related to smoking:
During 2000–2004, cigarette smoking was estimated to be responsible for $193 billion in annual health-related economic losses in the United States ($96 billion in direct medical costs and approximately $97 billion in lost productivity). The total economic costs (direct medical costs and lost productivity) associated with cigarette smoking are estimated at $10.47 per pack of cigarettes sold in the United States. Cigarette smoking results in 5.1 million years of potential life lost in the United States annually.
Many of these costs are directly borne by state government through Medicaid, Indigency and the Catastrophic health funds, precisely the reason Idaho sued the tobacco industry to recoup the costs of smoking that state government had to pick up. If Ms. Barrett is interested in allowing the citizens of the state of Idaho to make "stupid choices" that cost taxpayer money, she should at least try and recover those tax dollars we're going to pay from the responsible party. Besides responsible capitalism should incorporate all the costs of their products into the price of the product, not just the ones they can conceal behind a web of lobbyist BS about their company's bottom line. Increasing taxes on the product is a way to do that. Its not a tax, its imposing ethical standards on an industry with an unconscionable past. If freedom is your cause, then you should do everything in your power to help your citizens and your government to escape their clutches.