According to the great sage Benjamin Franklin in 1789:
… in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes
He probably didn’t envisage deliberately causing death by carelessly designing taxes. But to my surprise and dismay, that seems to be the idea of the public health establishment of United States. I saw this story today:
Smoking Rates Continue to Drop in Many States: CDC – Doctors’ Lounge. What to make of this?
It seems the apparent good news in the title is not worth celebrating however, because the miserablist view is that people may be reducing smoking but they are not playing ball because they are using smokeless tobacco products or vaping. So it’s not a real public health win. CDC apparently believes that this could be addressed by raising taxes on smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes.
“We know that increasing the price of tobacco is the most effective method to reduce consumption,” [Brian King, acting deputy director for research translation in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health] said. “Since smokeless tobacco is taxed lower in most states along with other products like e-cigarettes, this could be contributing to the lack of decline in use,” he said.
The American Lung Association also seems to think that a tax hike on these other tobacco products – i.e. the ones that don’t do much harm to lungs – would be a good idea.
Dr. Norman Edelman, senior consultant for scientific affairs at the American Lung Association, said the association agrees that states spend too little on helping people quit tobacco.
“Smokeless tobacco is cheap,” he said. “States have not raised taxes on it the way they have on cigarettes, and high prices are one of the best tools we have in combating the use of tobacco,” Edelman said.
To state the obvious: because of the low price elasticity of demand for nicotine products (due to addictiveness, dependence or whatever you care to call it), the dominant effect would be realignment of demand between products within the nicotine category, not quitting nicotine. Given that smokeless tobacco or vaping is around 95% lower risk than smoking, the realignment of demand through tax changes proposed by CDC and ALA would be from lower harm to higher harm products. “Fiscal deaths” (increased mortality arising from a change in tax policy) would surely follow. I guess it is unlikely that any of the desk-based perps cited above would be held to account – but let their economic naivety be recorded here.