Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick this week proposed further increasing taxes on a range of products to pay for an expansion of government funded health insurance. But, ironically, says the Washington-based National Center for Public Policy Research, the taxes could have the effect of keeping the government addicted to cigarette taxes, and smokers addicted to the deadliest forms of tobacco.
"The Governor's proposal to raise taxes on smokeless tobacco and other non-cigarette tobacco products, to put them on par with cigarette taxes, is based on his failure to appreciate that cigarettes are by far the most dangerous form of tobacco," says Jeff Stier, Director of the National Center for Public Policy Research's Risk Analysis Division.
"Sin taxes are a bad idea. But if the underlying purpose of a sin tax is to discourage risky behavior, the tax rate on each product ought to be in line with the risk of that behavior," says Stier.
"Increasing revenues, especially in difficult financial times, is a temptation few lawmakers can resist. But until sin taxes are done away with, they should at least be applied based on rationality and science," says Stier.
"When the legislature considers the governor's budget proposal, they should beware of the unintended consequences of reckless tax increases like this one," says Stier. "These include creating a perverse incentive for the government to rely on continued tobacco use to pay for health care, and dissuading people from switching from cigarettes to significantly lower-risk products such as smokeless tobacco or new dissolvable products."
Rather than raising taxes on lower-risk products, the state should consider putting sin taxes in line with the actual risk, as Indiana did last year, Stier says.
Stier has written numerous articles on why smokeless tobacco use is far less harmful than cigarette smoking, including in the Washington Times ("House Lights Up FDA Regulation") and Townhall.com ("Sane Sin Tax Policy Must Reflect Risks"), among others.
More information on Governor Patrick's proposal is available at http://www.telegram.com/article/20120126/NEWS/101269859/-1/NEWS07
The National Center For Public Policy Research (http://www.nationalcenter.org) is a conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank established in 1982. It is supported by the voluntary gifts of over 100,000 individual recent supporters, receiving about one percent of its revenue from corporate sources. Contributions to it are tax-deductible.