Have tobacco laws really caused anyone to butt out?

I really like smoking. I know, I’m a horrible person. Nefarious. Profligate. Lots of big, fancy words describe me. But when nothing is going my way and I’m two seconds away from putting my fist through the wall, nothing calms me down faster than a puff of the old cancer (as they were called in A Clockwork Orange. The book. Not the movie).

Government in recent years has taken it upon itself to squirt the proverbial water in the face of the smokers, and I don’t see why not. It’s not a bad idea. Smoking is the second most dominant cause of death in the world. It’s a filthy habit and hurts everyone around it. But government has taken to what the anti-smoking lobbyists say a bit too much.

A recent story suggests tobacco prices are too low in this province. That sounds viable. On P.E.I. or Nova Scotia I have to pay an extra two bucks of hard earned cash to buy a pack of smokes. But there seems to be a problem with some of the logic used by anti-tobacco proponents. These proponents estimate increasing tobacco prices by ten per cent will get decreasing smoking rates by four per cent. I assume by “estimate” they mean “when we pull numbers out of our…you know.” As far as I know, there’s no real way to track illegal tobacco sales, but correct me if I’m wrong. When they raise their hands triumphantly they seem to leave out, perhaps purposely, that, yes, people will risk big fines and move onto the illegal brand.

Everyone knows tobacco is a big tax grab. I put myself through school working in convenience stores. My former boss once told me there’s little profit for the store in smokes; they’re there because they bring people in who buy other things. That boss eventually went backrupt. A major contributing factor? Illegal tobacco. By my estimates (see “pull numbers out of…you know”) when tobacco taxes are raised ten per cent, 3.9 per cent of smokers start buying the illegal brand. Just ask my old roommate. He was in that 3.9.

You pay a couple bucks and you get 200 cigarettes. So, while governments start complaining about cigarettes killings its voters, they turn on a dime and start complaining about how illegal cigarettes take away money from health care and education. As ironic as it is for tobacco money to be paying for health care, it’s something I’m in favour for.

So here’s a crazy idea: want more tax dollars? Stop raising the price of cigarettes. I know it’s hard to actually consider, but think about it. All this money being lost is because the taxes are too high. People are going to smoke. Even if tobacco was suddenly made illegal people would still find a way to get it. And on that note, there’s no way they’ll make it illegal. Like I said, it’s a big tax grab.

All I’m suggesting is that among all the discussions and major fines and jail time being implemented because of illegal tobacco, it would be a lot easier if we just stopped raising taxes.

I do feel some pity for the government on this topic. Smokers become enraged when prices go up, but don’t do that and they look like they have a weak stance on the subject. Raise the price, people resort to illegal tobacco and tax dollars become mysteriously absent. Terrible catch-22.

If you were to ask me, not that anyone would, the best way to handle this would be to leave tobacco prices where they are. I’m sure some people do quit smoking when prices become too high, but not an effective number. Implement some more anti-smoking laws to guard against the public so to keep second-hand smoke out of unwanting lungs. Create harsher sentences and fines for illegal tobacco dealers and buyers to hopefully deter those involved (although I’m somewhat critical of that myself).

I know, I know. I want to say lower tobacco prices but I’m thinking in terms of what a government official would think. To lower tobacco prices would be to show a weak stance on this evil, but legal, weed as stated above, and truth be told, the non-smoking public does have a right to remain away from smokers.

I doubt these recommendations will go much beyond this article. I could even upset a few anti-smoking advocates (I can only hope). But the fact remains, no matter what the numbers show, people are going to continue smoking. It’s time for government to get a backbone and realize the changes haven’t caused a significant number of people to butt out.

Staff reporters will offer their views in this space on Wednesday and Friday. Lucas McInnis recently joined the Miramchi Leader as a reporter.

source: miramichileader.canadaeast.com

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