Opinion: Why the Cigarette Tax Is Another Poor Tax - NBC Chicago
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Opinion: Why the Cigarette Tax Is Another Poor Tax



    On Tax Day, we learned that Illinois’s tax system soaks the poor more than any other state’s, other than Alabama. Now, Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing another tax that will fall more heavily on the poor than the wealthy: a $1-a-pack cigarette tax, that is expected to generate $337.5 million for the state’s Medicaid system.

    Why is the cigarette tax a poor tax? Because poor people smoke more than rich people. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, 36.3 percent of adults with 9 to 11 years of education -- i.e., high school dropouts -- are smokers. Only 11.3 percent of adults with 16 years of education -- i.e., college graduates -- smoke cigarettes.

    Among adults living below the poverty level, 32.3 percent smoke. Only 23.5 percent of those living above the poverty level are smokers. When you’re poor, vices are the only luxuries you can afford.

    There’s an assumption that higher cigarette taxes will force smokers to quit, which shows how far out of touch legislators and bureaucrats are with the habits of broke people.

    What it forces people to do is roll their own, since the tax on loose tobacco is lower than the tax on packaged smokes. Unfiltered hand-rolled cigarettes expose smokers to more tar than mass-produced cigarettes. According to a study by the Norwegian Cancer Registry, rolling your own is twice as likely to result in lung cancer as smoking a factory cigarette.

    A New Zealand health study found that “comparatively high excise rates per gram of tobacco over many years have encouraged smokers to hand roll cigarettes thin and pay less tax. Thus excise increases have perversely encouraged cheaper smoking rather than quitting.”

    More proof that when the government proposes a new tax or a fee, such as a cigarette tax or camera enforcement of speed limits, it’s never about public health. It’s always about money. Also, it’s easier to tax the poor than the rich, because the poor can’t afford lobbyists.

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