Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Smoking Suckers

Okay, this is bullshit. A new $1.25 New York state tax on cigarettes has driven the prices of packs up dramatically; my pack of Parliaments now costs nine dollars.

And I think it's pretty ridiculous.

For the past few years, starting with perhaps the amended statewide smoking ban in 2003 but probably even earlier, New York's governments have been on a crusade to get its citizens to quit smoking. Yes, that's their goal. Of course, the ban isn't really comprehensive; smokers will still do what they do in their favorite bars, and I've been to numerous clubs where the bouncers inside don't tell patrons to take their smoking outside but rather to a less conspicuous area of the venue.

But this tax is pushing it too far. It's like some perverted Stamp Act, where my people's discontentment finds expression in disgruntled puffs and the jingling of change at the register, where our goal is not freedom of a nation but freedom to do whatever we want to our bodies, and I do believe this was taxation without representation, because anyone who apposed this tax increase would inevitably be painted as--gasp--pro-smoking (even if that person is simply anti-let's-take-more-money-from-the-people.)

I mentioned before that the government's goal was to get its citizens to stop smoking. I think that's true. But I do not believe that it is purely motivated by the desire to increase the longevity of its citizenry; rather, I think that the government was caving into pressure from the tourism industry, from scary anti-smoking people like Rob Reiner (who, being a non-smoker, is of course in the best of health), and from those same self-righteous perfectionists who want to see smoking removed from movies and made illegal within a certain number of feet from public buildings. Look, they raised the price of oil, but that hasn't made us any less of an oil-dependent nation; similarly, raising the price of cigarettes may get some people to cut back or even quit, but plenty of others (myself, most likely, included) will stick with the habit, and the so-called "problem" of people smoking in the city won't go away.

This is a typical article on the tax increase, with a typical man-on-the-street interview. The woman in the piece isn't quitting because of the health risks or, you know, because she's a mother, but because it is getting too expensive. Which is fine and good if you hate smoking and are glad to see it just go away in general, but this doesn't seem like a pro-health governmental crusade; it seems like a way for the government to increase its revenue while fighting the very industry that helped keep this nation afloat in its early days (albeit by way of slavery, but slavery was unfortunately rather universal, being used in all agricultural industries.)

Were people really dropping like flies due to secondhand smoke before the ban? Were crazed addicts roaming the streets, buying four packs for twenty dollars and offering the cutest fifth-graders their first cancer stick? Or was New York simply a city in which some people chose to partake in a habit that has definite health risks, the same city that faces air pollution from smog and automobile exhaust, the same city that once prided itself on allowing those who lived there to make their own choices, health risks and political correctness be damned, in the name of a bohemia and a romantic recklessness both, sadly, in what is surely their dying moments.

-Josh

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