opinion

COLUMN: The unfair war on cigarettes



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A "no smoking" sign hangs on the wall.  Tribune News Service

Imagine visiting a McDonald’s to get a quick bite on your lunch break. You’re famished and all you can think about is a Big Mac paired with a large order of fries and a Coke to wash it all down. 

You approach the register, order your meal and whip out your wallet expecting to pay a meager $6.00 charge. Imagine the surprise you feel when the cost of your order is more than $10.00 after tax. That’s a bit more than you expected for a glorified cheeseburger.

What you just experienced is what cigarette consumers must endure every time they buy more cigarettes. The tax on a pack of cigarettes varies vastly from state to state. In Indiana, the tax on a pack of cigarettes is about $1.36 bringing the average price of a pack to $5.56. Meanwhile, the tax on a pack of cigarettes in New York is about $4.75 bringing the average price of a pack to a staggering $10.45. Keep in mind, these are the prices before additional county and municipal taxes are factored in. 

This tax is commonly referred to as a sin tax. The purpose of this tax it to lessen the number of smokers while bolstering the government's finances. The states that use this tax think that they're lowering the amount of smokers in their area when, in reality, they're just causing smokers to travel to neighboring states that tax their cigarettes less.

This utterly unfair tax is forced on these consumers purely because smoking is considered unhealthy and is frowned upon by the majority of society. 

If that’s the case, why don’t we place unreasonably higher taxes on fast food? We’ve all heard that fast food is unhealthy for us and increases risk of obesity. If placing unreasonably high taxes does such a great job at lowering cigarette sales, why don’t we do Americans a favor and financially punish them for consuming the food they enjoy?

Bloomington has enacted a food and beverage tax, but it's a mere 1 percent. Restaurants claim to not have seen a decrease in customers at all since the tax was imposed. The purpose of this tax is not to inhibit people from eating, it's to fund the new extension to the county's convention center. 

The difference between fast food enthusiasts and smokers is that a staggering number of Americans eat fast food. They have a larger voice. There would be an uproar of disapproval if extremely high taxes were placed on fast food because a large portion of America’s population eats fast food. 

Policy makers can get away with unfairly taxing cigarettes while still keeping most of the Americans they represent perfectly happy. After all, most people would be satisfied with others footing the bill if it means they get to pay fewer taxes. 

Of all places, I first discovered this ridiculous unfairness in an accounting class here at IU. My professor put a hypothetical tax of 20 percent on all items. Then, he proposed that he knew a way to drop this tax to 5 percent. 

Instead of everyone paying the 20 percent tax, a 15 percent tax would be imposed on cigarettes and other nicotine delivery products. This leaves only a 5 percent tax left to pay on all other goods. 

He surveyed the class by asking who prefers to pay the 20 percent tax on all products. My hand alone went up. 

He then asked who prefers to pay only a five percent tax at the expense of nicotine consumers. Every hand in the class was raised. 

Frankly, this is discriminatory in nature. We all partake in unhealthy habits and behaviors, yet we don’t have to fork over unreasonable amounts of cash to cover the expenses of others. 

Many would consider their Netflix addictions to be obsessive and unhealthy. When they get their bill, these people don’t find a crushing tax imposed by the government to hinder their Netflix usage. Instead, cigarette consumers get picked on and pay the price. 

We’re the land of the free, and we parade equality on our shoulders. We make this claim while taxing smokers more than the rest of Americans for enjoying a freedom they are more than entitled to.

It’s not the government’s job to punish us for consuming a completely legal product. When the government imposes these excessive taxes on cigarette consumers, not only is it unfair, it’s a breach of American freedom. 

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