Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bring Back Prohibition!

By Alan Caruba

That’s right. Bring back Prohibition. It was such a success, right? Oh sure, it led to the development of organized crime, everyone ignored it, and it took a Constitutional amendment to get rid of it, but it did save so many from the evils of demon rum—not!

Taxes on things people enjoy are generally called “sin” taxes. They are an easy way to raise revenue and politicians who break most of the Ten Commandments love to impose them.

I would love to see Congress try to pass a massive tax on chocolate. How long do you think it would take for a Chocolate Tea Party to get organized, on buses, and down to the Capitol steps wielding pitchforks?

But wait, eating chocolate in any shape, manner or form has health implications. At a time when we are all being hectored for being too fat, chocolate is a major contributor to that trend. It’s said to give the younger set zits and, of course, it runs up their dentist bills like crazy. Never mind that it tastes good! It’s bad for you and should be taxed and taxed and then taxed some more!

This is, of course, the “reasoning” behind the long campaign to stamp out smoking in America. It is, we’re told, “for your own good.” If we had to give up everything we enjoy for our own good, we’d—all together now—bring back Prohibition!

Before I continue, in the interest of full disclosure, I smoke cigars. I have smoked them since I was in my twenties and I am now in my seventies. My father, who passed away in his early nineties, smoked a pipe from his youth. Second-hand smoke had no apparent affect on my mother who passed away at age 98.

The “science” behind second-hand smoke is the typical bogus exaggeration that got DDT banned. Since 1972, malaria has claimed the lives of an estimated forty million people worldwide.

To punish smokers because there are some diseases associated with it is manifestly unfair when one considers that over-eating can be just as hazardous to one’s health and, of course, drinking too much is a major cause of death.

Just about anything one does to excess can be harmful. The real question is whether the government has any mandate to interfere with personal lifestyle decisions. The answer is, it doesn’t.

It is smokers who are routinely punished financially for the enjoyment of cigars, cigarettes or pipe tobacco. It used to cost me around $140 a month for two boxes of Casa Blanca’s, hand-rolled cigars from the Dominican Republic. It now costs over $200 a month. That’s obscene.

Only government could get away with forcing up the price in that matter. These days it is intended to close the gap in bloated state budgets. In New York State, the latest tax proposal on cigarettes would increase the cost to about $10 per pack!

The problem is that neither the federal, nor the state budgets ever seem to get smaller, leaner. The entire nation is on the brink of bankruptcy and, apparently, taxing smokers seems to be one of the preferred solutions.

With the exception of those states whose constitutions require balanced budgets, most of the fifty states are in such deep debt that the federal government must print money and send it to them in box cars to help pay for all the unfunded mandates that have been imposed on them, along with the cost of their contracts with civil service unions whose pensions and health care benefits dwarf those employed in the private sector.

There’s currently a House bill, H.R. 4439, the Tobacco Parity Act of 2010 that would raise taxes on pipe tobacco. It would raise it 775%!!!! The tax would increase from $2.83 per pound to $24.78 per pound! That, too, is obscene.

Prohibition demonstrated that, if you raise the price of a certain good or service beyond a certain point, people will find a way to procure it more cheaply. They will cross state lines, purchase over the Internet, or seek a black market outlet. One of the favorite ways of financing domestic terrorism that Islamists found has been trafficking in out-of-state cigarettes.

This is so manifestly nuts that it can only hasten the day when a Fair Tax, one based on purchases as opposed to income, must become the law of the land. Making life expensive for everyone who wants to smoke, drink or fill up their gas tank is surely going to reach a point of a massive blowback from taxpayers because it is manifestly unfair and unjust.

Here’s how irrational raising taxes on tobacco use is. The increased tax is supposed to reduce the number of smokers. Thus, we’re told, the raising of taxes is intended to reduce the number of people from whom the higher taxes can be squeezed. This is the same insane illogical thinking that justifies raising gasoline taxes in order, we’re told, to force people to use public transit.

It never happens. It is a fantasy. It is a modern form of the inquisition.

The only thing this deliberate injustice achieves is the destruction of any motivation to earn more or to invest one’s earnings. It exists to secure more revenue for government programs, giveaways, of which there is no end. It is a formula for the destruction of the nation.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


LarryOldtimer said...

What government wishes to tax greatly, government first demonizes. Prohibition ended up causing far more people to drink than before, and the end result was not only significantly greater organized crime, but in addition, far more people, both men and women, patronizing drinking establishmednts after prohibition.

Extreme taxes on tobacco products have brought great increases already in organized crime, particularly in the theft of cigarettes and smuggling of cigarettes.

Smoking tobacco also has health and medical benefits, such as prevention of Parkinson's Disease, and increasing mental alertness alertness in older people.

It seems we never learn.

"Shady" said...

All I hear is raise taxes, now raising taxes on pipe tobacco is on the table....whats next? It is so crazy.


bostmass said...

Because many states like New York have raised the price of cigarettes via tax increases to such outlandish amounts, New Yorkers travel 10 minutes to a local Indian tribe and buy them tax free. Those not near Indian tribes simply quit. Or buy them online from an Indian tribe. The state loses more revenue. They raise the taxes again thinking this will somehow magically bring in more money. Again, more people quit or find alternative sources to buy their butts. I was under the impression the constitution prevented the government from unfairly targeting a class of people with punishing taxes.

In the end, the black market will reign supreme like it did for prohibition. Sometimes I shake my head at the stupidity of lawmakers.

And the No. 1 killer in the U.S.? Not smoking, which is now No. 2. It's obesity/heart disease. Imagine a $3 tax on a whopper.

TexasFred said...

"a Chocolate Tea Party"
Be very careful Alan, some will perceive that to be a *racist* comment, mostly libbers from New Orleans, but hey, just sayin'...

Alan Caruba said...

@Texas Fred
Shades of Ray Nagin! :-)

Redmond said...

Great article Alan

Up here in Canada we have exactly the same problem - the Government excesively taxes cigarettes, and is surprised when the black market explodes.

Seizures of illegal cigarettes did reach record highs in 2008, up more than 50% from 625,659 cartons
in 2007 to 965,688 cartons, but the contraband market is growing even faster, said Eric Gagnon a
spokesman for Imperial Tobacco. "How can you stand up and say we're claiming success, things are
good, when we haven't shut down a factory, the number of organized crimes has increased from 100
to 175, and the contraband is at an all-time high?"
Studies commissioned by the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco estimated that in 2008, 48.6% of cigarettes purchased in Ontario and 40% in Quebec were illegal. While legal cartons typically sell for $80 or $90, illegal cigarette cartons are usually offered for as little as $6, and are frequently available to minors. The RCMP estimates that provincial and federal governments lose roughly $2.5-billion in annual taxes to the underground trade.

Donna Harris said...

While, as a nonsmoker, I appreciate establishments that don't permit smoking, you have some very good points here.

I don't care to smell like cigarettes or cigars. However, I will defend your right to do so.

And the government has done so well with Prohibition, stamping out drug use, eliminating pot, etc.

None of those things are going away.