where there’s smoke, there’s fire

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Monday, January 26th, 2009

where there’s smoke, there’s fire

before getting into the matter at hand, let me first state that i enjoy like love cigars. they are one of my great carnal pleasures in life. seriously, one of my favorite activities is sitting down with a good cigar and getting into a good, long theological conversation with friends (yeah, this is what you get when you mix theology nerds with hand-rolled leaves of honduran goodness…). the reason i preface the post with this is that i’m not coming at the issue of tobacco without my own dog in this fight, so to speak. (of course, i will touch on the glaring difference between cigar and cigarette/other tobacco use in a moment.)

you may (or may not) be aware that today, legislators filed gov. mike beebe’s plan to implement at 56 cent hike in the state cigarette tax. currently, the average price of a pack of cigarettes is about$3.81, so the tax hike would increase it to well above $4. first, let me say that i am 100% on board with this proposal. in fact, i think it could be even higher than that and i would be fine with it. the more out-of-reach we make cigarettes (and other tobacco products, because smokeless tobacco is also facing tax increases), the better.
i don’t think the sole solution to getting people to quit smoking is to increase the price of cigarettes, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. i think it’s clear that people aren’t primarily deterred from smoking or anything else because of the price. i mean, people pay ridiculous prices for a lot of things (the average price for a super bowl ticket is $3,100…). BUT, when you smoke a couple packs a day and you’re staring at over $8/day—$56/week, $240/month, $2,920/year—you’re going to think long and hard about if you really can’t live without your precious cancer sticks.
primarily, i think the biggest deterrence to cigarette use/addiction is shifting cultural perception. for many, many years (decades, really), all you needed to do was go spend an hour or so on a college campus to see the cultural perception of smoking: it’s cool and adult-like and shows one’s sense of freedom & independence. by all means, i’m not one to blame media (in fact, very far from it), but it’s very clear that smoking, particularly in movies, has been a part of character development that denotes the “cool guy” or the “sophisticated woman” or the “rebel” or the “independent spirit.” fortunately, hollywood agrees (by and large) with my assessment and there’s been a concerted effort to lessen those depictions (which has been pretty much voluntary by producers/writers/directors).
with that said, though, i think increase in pricing is an important piece in the larger affront on tobacco use. there are several reasons i think this increase is a good thing and can be a success.
1. the convenience factor. this, really, is a response to some of the criticism. while most people—it’s fair to assume—have a jaded perspective of our elected officials and distrust their ability to be frank and forthcoming with the public, i think there are some who are changing those perceptions (chiefly president obama…but that’s a whole other blog…). 🙂 admittedly, i know very little about speaker of the house robbie wills, but if one of his latest blog posts is any indication of his values and transparent leadership style, i like him. he wrote (here) that one of the arguments is that people will go across the border to buy cigarettes where they’re cheaper. i’ll let you read his remarks (which are rather candid and slightly snarky, which is great), but he basically argues that people, ultimately, choose convenience over price. if you’re living in little rock, i’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you aren’t gonna make a special trip to missouri or tennessee to buy a couple packs of smokes. you’re going to buy local and you’re going to pay more than $4 to do it.
2. smokers are a drain on our economy. our health care system—according to this really interesting article (which i highly encourage you to read)—takes a hit of over $816 million annually. all in all, arkansas takes a $2 billion hit each year total because of tobacco. the increased tax revenue is going to raise $88 million for statewide health care.
in all fairness, obesity causes a great burden on the health care system as well and as someone who is overweight, i need to fess up to that and take responsibility. in fact, i’ve been sick a lot more in the past year or so than what i’ve been in the past and i think some of it is directly related to my poor eating habits and weight, in general. we need to address obesity as well in our state. BUT, the thing i’ve always argued is that, at very least, obesity is a product of something our body musthave: food. obviously, it’s created by an abuse of food, but still, we can’t escape eating. cigarettes, on the other hand, is something we could completely cut out and have only positive effects.
3. i simply support an increase in taxes, not a complete prohibition. as our country’s history knows full well, prohibition simply doesn’t work. further, i would say that, as adults, we should have the choice to put things into our bodies that are harmful, even deadly, if we so choose. but, if one so chooses, they should have to pay dearly to do it.
to bring it back to my preface about cigars, if i so choose to smoke cigars (which i do maybe one or twice a year…although i wish it were more…), i will gladly dish out the cash necessary. of course, cigars cost substantially more than cigarettes already (i have paid as much as $15 for a single cigar before and many aficionados consider that on the very low and cheap end of cigars…). the other difference, of course, is that cigar smoking, for most and myself, is not an addictive habit like cigarette smoking. now, many people are just as addicted to cigars as cigarettes, but that’s not the kind of cigar usage that i’m referring to here.

i know this has been a lengthy discussion about this issue, so if you need to go relax and rest your eyes, i suggest going out, buying a pack of camel reds and smoking one down in the name of taxes…