Staff Editorial: Sin tax across board

NW Staff

An increased tax on cigarettes took effect yesterday, April 1, and bumped the price of a pack of cigarettes to about $6 in Michigan. The national tax jumped from 39 cents a pack to $1.01. This fee, when added to the existing Michigan tax of $2 per pack, forces Michigan smokers to pay more than $3 per pack in tax.

The funds raised by this sin tax – a common term for taxes levied on “pleasure poisons,” such as alcohol and tobacco – will be directed to the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan, which will increase the number of children receiving government-sponsored health insurance.

While the concept of children’s health insurance is an important one, The North Wind feels that smokers are yet again being unfairly targeted by voters and legislators. When a tax is needed to help balance the budget or to fund a new program, smokers often bear the burden.

Many argue with the concept of a sin tax on drinkers or smokers, and say that legislators tax these groups only because their vices are unlikely to receive sympathy from voters.

Perhaps this is true. Maybe it’s even fair. It is certainly reasonable that government be able to levy taxes against people whose behavior could damage their health and will later burden the nation’s healthcare system with expensive long-term illnesses. But with smoking, drinking and obesity, all of which are health dangers, the question is simple: Why target smokers?

According to a Swedish study released last month, smokers and overweight individuals face the same types of health risks. The authors of the study claim that the risk of death for someone with an unhealthy Body Mass Index increased by 35 percent; the risk for light smokers was increased by 55 percent. Heavy smokers and obese individuals were more than twice as likely to die.

The American Obesity Association reports that 60 million Americans are obese, a number that has doubled since 1980. According to Newsweek, about 63 million American adults smoke. These numbers are comparable, but in Michigan alone, the taxes for these behaviors are largely uneven. Although there is a tobacco tax, there is no tax on fast food. The state tax on wine is 51 cents per gallon and the tax on beer is 20 cents per gallon. The tax on spirits is $11.65 per gallon.

We should consider altering national tax policies to reflect consumption of other pleasure poisons, as well. Ideally, we would greatly cut tobacco taxes and would create a fast food tax. Smokers shouldn’t have to bear the burden alone.