Perhaps you’ve heard of the latest Federal taxes imposed on tobacco. This unprecedented tax hike funds health insurance for poor children, and also is supposed help deter smoking as a public health measure. Sounds great as marketed to the public, but, as a Christian, I vehemently oppose this nonsense, and I would like to tell you why, as a Christian, you should, too.
The measure imposes the greatest tobacco tax hike in history, nearly tripling the tax on cigarettes, and in some cases increasing taxes on cigars by 800% to 2750%! Such huge increases have little to no precedent in American history.
And they have little opposition from Christians, either, which is what disturbs me so much. Why no moral outrage when the government raises taxes again on anything? For several reasons: (1) because taxes on tobacco, like on alcohol, are “sin” taxes, and Christians highly approve when other people’s sins get taxed heavily. You know the saying: hate the sin, love the sinner, but tax him to death in the process. (2) People don’t mind when taxes fall on the other guy in general. The old political principle of NIMBY plays out: Not In My Back Yard. As long as the new political burdens don’t affect me, I won’t complain. Smokers comprise a minority that gets drowned out in today’s society. (3) Christians have no biblical or theological understanding of taxes and state power to begin with: they just sheepily follow the flow of secular society around them. As author and columnist Joel Miller pointed out long ago, on such issues as alcohol, tobacco, guns, and taxes, churches give us nothing more than “repeated calls for government action informed not by genuine scriptural truths, but by statist and sometimes radically antibiblical fancies, closely akin to progressive do-gooder schemes.”
A Political Blunder
Let me make a couple observations in addition. Note, first of all, that by enacting this tax, Obama has openly broken one of his central campaign promises. “I can make a firm pledge,” he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.” He repeatedly vowed “you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime.”
Yet who, for the most part, buys cigarettes? By far lower and middle class families, including the poorest of the poor. The income bracket with the highest percentage of smokers is $6–12k per year, in which 34% are smokers. The same Gallup study shows steadily declining figures until you arrive at the $90k or more per year groups among whom only 13% smoke. Of course, even these groups fall under Obama’s less-than $250k earners, and so he breaks his promise for these as well.
Keep in mind, this was not some passing reference he made in one speech caught by a hidden cell-phone camera. This formed a central part of his campaign, preached and boasted in every rally and debate. He might as well have told us up front that he’s fuzzy on what the word “is” is; but we should have learned that lesson with liberals long ago.
Additionally, the stated reasons behind the tax increase forge a falsehood as well. “It’s all about the children and public health.” Oh, precious children! This measure will fund healthcare for the poor children, and deter many of them from starting to smoke. Except: cigars, not cigarettes, incur the greatest percentage increase of the penalty, and the demographic of cigar smokers mainly includes adult males, not children. So in classic liberalogic, in order to deter children from smoking cigarettes, they’ll tax cigars and pipes which don’t pose an imminent temptation to children. Might as well tax broccoli. Wait, they already do. Well, then, coffee. Um, oops again. Well, then, four-door sedans. Never mind; you get the picture.
There are economic consequences, too. In Florida particularly, cigars form a $2 billion per year industry. Many (thousands?) of the skilled workers who roll the hecho a mano beauties fear losing their jobs, as some companies “go from paying $1 million in taxes a year to $4 million.” So much for Obama’s economic promises of creating jobs. Well, really as he destroys these free-market jobs and creates government jobs related to increased tax accounting and collection, maybe he can still claim honesty on this one, with a sly smile.
I, in principle, oppose government control of health care, and some of the reasoning behind this tax shows why. One article declares: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cigarette smoking results in an estimated 443,000 premature deaths each year, and costs the economy $193 billion in health care expenses and lost time from work.” When government pays for something, it will seek to minimize its costs (this rule does not apply to big friends of government, such as banks; these rack up whatever bills they need to maintain their power and then government charges the taxpayers). Thus, when government pays for your health, it will seek to minimize its outlay, and this includes not only tightening budgets, forcing “rich” taxpayers and “sin” taxpayers to pay for it, but also coercing you to behave in ways that minimize its expenses. If government pays, government calls the shots. If the government can save $193 billion by forcing its health dependents not to smoke, then it will try everything it can. After all, it could use that $193 billion to help keep its cancerous asset-ridden banks on life support.
(As an aside, hospital and doctor errors cause about 250,000 deaths per year, and that’s a minimum figure. Iatrogenesis is a real phenomenon, just never publicized in the mainstream media. Tobacco companies get slammed while hospitals get government funding and protection. Some studies put the figure as high as 700,000, which would make doctors the leading cause of death in the U.S. Should we therefore look into these as a public health concern; a target for a special 800% tax? Of course, Medicare is already in place. Hmm.)
Of course, there is also the inherent paradox in establishing a health care program that depends upon smoking for its revenue. If SCHIP is to succeed, people will have to keep buying tobacco; or as one headline put it a while back, “22 Million New Smokers Needed.” But if the so-called public health measure works and people quit smoking, then SCHIP will lose much of its funding. Of course, we all know that SCHIP will never lose funding. Once entrenched, and once millions of people grow dependent upon them, government programs are impossible to remove. The stench of burning envy sticks in your clothes, especially your pockets. So if taxes from smokers quit drifting in like second-hand smoke, politicians will find another second-hand tax to prop up SCHIP.
A Christian Failure
Nevertheless, all of the political blunders aside, the fact that so few Christians speak out against tyranny and loss of personal liberties completely shames the religion. Worse than this, however, many Christian jump on board with such liberal nonsense because it attacks what appears to them as sin or vice. For example, in the state of Florida, Christian Coalition leader (and former Republican Congressman) Dennis Buxley has promoted further increased state taxes on tobacco as “acceptable,” citing the same reasons as the liberals in D.C. and Obama’s administration. But this tactic merely exercises greater sins (envy, strife, seditions, and theft) in order to ostensibly eradicate the allegedly “great” sin of smoking (about which Scripture says nothing). In this sense, “sin” taxes actually commit worse sins by taxes. Sin taxes are actually tax sins.
Of course there remains at least one massive target for a “sin” tax, one that brings in massively greater revenue than cigars and pipes. Pornography. According to one statistics website, Americans spend $13.3 billion per year in the adult industry, and these products have no additional tax beyond general sales tax. Pornography is just as powerful an addiction as tobacco, drugs, and alcohol, and those ministries that offer help treat it as such. I would think that sexual sins have a much stronger and clearer scriptural mandate against them than do things like tobacco use and alcohol use (which I would argue scripture does not forbid).
So do you wonder why so few moves have been made to put a “sin” tax on pornography? It’s not because liberals and uninformed Christian legislators haven’t tried or don’t want to. It’s because pornography is protected under free speech, and legislators don’t want to go there. This is a good thing. The lesson here is certainly not that I condone pornography, but rather that if you don’t want something taxed, you need a clear constitution and judicial mandate to protect it, and these things do not arise unless there is a widespread public outcry or some legal precedent. Since we have neither in most cases, we get nickel-and-dimed (not adjusting for inflation) to death with progressively increasing taxes.
Until Christians derive a biblical view of money, the State, and taxation, and then seek to reduce the power of government by these principles, tyranny will continue to increase like rising floodwaters against strained levees. A catastrophic break will remain on the horizon. As long as Christians refuse to address the real tax sins—institutionalized envy and coercion—that have no moral high ground in culture at all.