Screwed Up Priorities

Which of these is more likely to help poor people, cheap groceries or cheap cigarettes? Groceries, right? Tell that to Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.

Addendum 03/20/06:  Since Publius doesn’t care for my "self-righteous indignation over an evil, greedy Republican supposedly screwing the little guy to benefit evil, murderous tobacco companies", I’ve decided to explain what I thought was so obviously screwed up in these priorities.  I have no desire to "soak the poor while at the same time looking liberal".  I do, however, wish to be compassionate, and I do not believe that Gov. Barbour made a compassionate choice.

Given a choice between lowering taxes on necessities, like groceries, or a non-necessity that causes health problems, some deadly, for users and those around them, which cause increases in everyone’s insurance premiums, I’d think anyone with more than sawdust for brains would choose groceries.  Publius and some folks in the comboxes have suggested that no matter how steep the tax on smokes got, poor people would still buy them, which certainly wouldn’t help them become any less poor.  If all we were talking about was raising the tobacco tax, I might agree with them that little good would come from it.  However, Gov. Barbour had an opportunity to sign a bill into law that would not only raise the tobacco tax, but also lower the grovery tax.  It seems to me that at worst poor people would break even in that scenario; what they’d save on groveries, they’d spend on smokes.  Meanwhile, those who don’t smoke might be able to buy something nutricious for their families.  On a side note, I’d like to point out that PA, a state whose legislature is full of selfish asshats, does at least one thing right by having the decency to not tax groceries.  Taxing necessities – how retarded is that?!?

"I have a close family member who would really feel the crunch if over 80¢ were added to the cigarette tax in Virginia — and there’s no way she’d quit over it."  So says Publius.  "In Chicago, where I spent last week, a pack of cheap smokes is $7.50. Yet the po’ folks there still buy fags before food." So says Tom Smith.  "[I]if it means cutting out just one meal a day to buy a pack of smokes… i would have done it and i know plenty other smokers who would too. Case in point: i work with several guys who never have enough money for lunch, but they always have plenty of smokes." So says Squat.

Am I supposed to have sympathy for such fools?  I feel sad for them that they’d rather smoke away their lives than eat and I’ll pray that they come to their senses.  I’ll also pray that tobacco companies take it up the wazoo for deliberately addicting people.  I feel bad that they’ve been exploited and manipulated.  However, they still have free will.  As far as I’m concerned, a tobacco tax is a stupidity tax.  If you can’t figure out that food is more important than smokes, don’t come whining to me about how you don’t have enough money to feed yourself.  Forest gump had it right.; stupid is as stupid does.

That said, I’m not a fan of "sin taxes", i.e. taxes on undesirable behavior.  I prefer tax relief for desirable behavior.  That’s easier to implement in income taxes than sales taxes, though.  Still, I don’t much care for the government chiding folks for smoking, drinking exessively, etc. while profiting from those same activities.  In the case of tobacco, perhaps a decent comprimise would be to use cigarette tax proceeds for anti-smoking and smoking cessation programs.

One more thing: don’t give me a sob story about how taxing cigarettes hurts the tobacco industry.  I don’t care.  Making abortion illegal, or at least rarer, would hurt the abortion industry.  Boo-hoo.  I wouldn’t give a flying fig if Big Tobacco just curled up and died.

Comments 11

  1. Tom Smith wrote:

    Poor people are going to smoke, no matter what the price of cigarettes is. In Chicago, where I spent last week, a pack of cheap smokes is $7.50. Yet the po’ folks there still buy fags before food.

    Posted 17 Mar 2006 at 8:27 pm
  2. edey wrote:

    don’t you think that the priorities are a little messed up if people on a limited budget are buying something that could be considered a luxury item (smokes) before something that everyone would agree is a necessity (food)? while smoking does suppress appetite, it doesn’t supply nourishment that food does.

    Posted 17 Mar 2006 at 8:43 pm
  3. howard wrote:

    I get not trying to cripple the tobacco industry as a matter of policy. But when there’s a choice between favoring necessity or favoring vice? Wow — that is messed up.

    Posted 18 Mar 2006 at 12:40 am
  4. Tom Smith wrote:

    Yes, I do think the priorities of smokers with little money are inverted. I merely contend that poor people will be helped more by low cigarette prices, because no raise in price will cause them to quit. I am well aware that it’s counterintuitive, but it’s true. With cigarettes, even drastic price increases as incentive to get people to quit fail to work.

    Posted 18 Mar 2006 at 10:34 am
  5. edey wrote:

    so what you’re saying is lower prices for cigarettes are better for poor people so they have more money left over on their fixed income to buy necessities? as in they consider their cigarettes top priority as a necessity?

    Posted 18 Mar 2006 at 12:31 pm
  6. Squat wrote:

    well, edey, speaking as an ex-smoker i’d have to say yes. it’s stupid, but it’s an addiction. how many crack or heroin addicts would easily give up a meal for another fix? i know it seems like an extreme comparison, but if it means cutting out just one meal a day to buy a pack of smokes… i would have done it and i know plenty other smokers who would too. sad, but true.

    Posted 18 Mar 2006 at 11:46 pm
  7. Squat wrote:

    case in point: i work with several guys who never have enough money for lunch, but they always have plenty of smokes.

    Posted 19 Mar 2006 at 8:34 am
  8. Tom Smith wrote:


    Posted 19 Mar 2006 at 9:48 am
  9. edey wrote:

    i’ll accept that it’s the way things are, but i still think it’s lame.

    Posted 20 Mar 2006 at 11:07 am
  10. Squat wrote:

    can you please come down off your high horse now ;-)? you have apparently never had a chemical addiction. i smoked for 15+ years and i’m only turning 30 this year. it may have started out as a social thing, just trying to look cool or grown up, but it quickly turns into an addiction. i’m not just talking about a social or mental addiction, but a physical one. It is impossible to explain to someone who has never felt it what an addiction feels like. i have been “clean” for a few years now, but i am still tortured every time i see someone light-up or see packs of smokes at my local Quick Stop when i’m just trying to get some milk. It becomes such a part of your life, that it invades every aspect. everything reminds you of smoking. to this day i still fight off urges and i will for the rest of my life. oh, and the best part is… it DOSEN’T get any easier as time goes by. if anything, i find it gets harder.
    i know that you (and many others) hate smoking and all those “evil” smokers out there, but please! you don’t need to pity them, just have a little compassion.

    Posted 21 Mar 2006 at 4:35 pm
  11. edey wrote:


    so what eventually inspired you to quit after 15+ years of smoking? i’m honestly curious since it’s such a hard thing to do what keeps you “clean”. i know it’s gotta be a continual decision.

    Posted 23 Mar 2006 at 4:57 pm

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