By Nicholas Wright
I recently finished my master’s degree in public administration. In my final course, the class and I had to write up a public policy. I chose to write on a complete ban on tobacco products, an idea from an old movie called Americathon (1979). It’s a John Ritter movie. I feel close to the topic because my biggest regret in life is having smoked cigarettes for 10 years. I also feel that we all should feel close to this topic. Tobacco smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in America. Nearly half a million deaths a year in America are caused by smoking. This is equivalent to one in every five deaths. But that is not the reason one should care.
One should care because communities that initiate new smoking legislation have lower poverty levels, which is known to be associated with tobacco use. It can be surmised that tobacco causes poverty which leads to other negative socioeconomic trends, such as lower education and early death. Poverty-stricken communities tend to rely on more government welfare than usual thereby reinstating their hopelessness. One may appeal to freedom of choice, but the facts show the choice falls on those who have no voice: children. Second-hand smoke is not a victimless crime.
The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control or FCTC sees a tobacco-free world by 2040, where less than 5 percent of the world’s adult population use tobacco. This is the sort of agenda setting the United States must compete against in a constantly globalizing world. The quickest, easiest, and most effective way to control tobacco is a sumptuary/sin tax. An increase of $1 in taxes results in a 19.7 percent lower odds of individual-level current smoking. This strikes at the heart of poverty and youth tobacco use. The current taxing scheme ranges from a few dimes in rural states to a few dollars in urban cities. It should be raised to the prohibitive max.
A quarter of Natchitoches adults are cigarette users. Nicotine patches and gums are exceedingly helpful and cost less than a month’s supply of cigarettes. A state law specifically allows a local (parish) sales tax on cigarette papers. LA. STAT. ANN. § 47:338.261. Additionally, local governments are authorized to adopt excise taxes “for the sole purpose of enabling the municipality, parish or political subdivision to meet its financial obligations under the agreements entered into pursuant to Section 1325.” LA. STAT. ANN. § 33:1331.
These funds could be used on infrastructure. Nearly half of the general public in the USA (45%) supports banning tobacco sales within 10 years. The newest trend is the banning of menthol cigarettes. The UK is banning all menthol cigarettes as of May 20, 2020. The banning of menthol cigarettes would benefit African-Americans and youth who disproportionately smoke this flavor. Menthol cigarette sales account for a third of all cigarette sales. Essentially, a tax such as this would balance parish funds by taking money from the city, since the Cane River Waterway Commission takes from the parish. It is often stated that success breeds success, and this happens to be one of those cases.
There are detractors. However, a mother should be able to pay any important bills on time and not spend money on cigarettes that would have been better spent on household essentials. There is reason to fear that history will repeat itself in the context of tobacco use. It is the right thing to do. To kill two birds with one stone is the right thing to do.
Senator Marco Rubio, who said, “[t]he truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.” We should take steps in that direction. Here is our step.
Now, I will admit that I trust money in the hands of parents more than in the government’s grip. They are the ones who have led us into this current Great Apostasy. But hey, we could always have a Natchitochesathon!
An aside: there is a common misconception that e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes. In fact, e-cigarettes are far more dangerous than cigarettes. There are no ‘health benefits’ associated with e-cigarettes; it does not help stop or cure nicotine addiction; instead, it initiates and reinforces addictive behavior. Consequently, e-cigarettes should be banned along with menthol cigarettes.
Nicholas Wright holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration and is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Administration.
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