The Utah Legislature is at it again.  There are many budgetary items that need to be funded and not enough tax dollars to pay for them.  The current proposal on the table is to raise the (sin) tax on cigarettes, cigars, and snuff to make up for the projected $50 Million shortfall in the budget.  Whether to raise this tax is a delicate question to consider for the principled individual.  Here are some things to consider.

Raising tobacco taxes is funding statewide programs by singling out a minority. People who smoke in the state of Utah are on a steady decline and the current rate (2008) of use is just over 9% for adults.  Politically it is an easy thing to alienate a small portion of the population.  There are 2.7 Million people in the state of Utah, and the State Legislature wants to raise $50 Million from approximately 200,000 smokers.  That works out to approximately $250 per smoker this year and is not exactly a fair way to raise that money.

Smoking causes lost productivity and additional medical bills. According to the CDC the cost of medical treatment and lost productivity attributable to smoking in the State of Utah for 2008 was $663 Million or approximately 13 times the amount of money the State is trying to raise from tobacco taxes this fiscal year.  The CDC does not track how much of that money for medical care was spent from state funds but it is pretty safe to conclude that at least a portion of that money came from state funds.  Probably not $50 Million in state funds.

Tobacco tax increases reduces the number of smokers, especially among kids. As the cost of smoking increases financially the number of people who smoke decreases.  Less people smoking is a good thing for everyone.

Tobacco, if used as intended by the manufacturers results in early, preventable death. The product is addictive, habit forming, and provides a multitude of negative health consequences from repeated use.  There is no real upside for the individual or society from continued smoking.

The projected windfall from the tax hike may fail to materialize as people quit smoking. The goal of the tax hike is to fund certain areas like education and the highway patrol.  When the people who quit smoking also quit buying cigarettes this source of tax funds will dry up and possibly still leave a budget shortfall.

There is a perceived religious bias in raising the tobacco tax. The majority of the state legislature are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who live by the Word of Wisdom which prohibits the use of tobacco (except for sick cattle and bruises).  Because of this religious injunction against tobacco and the prevalence of the dominant religion some may see this as religious intolerance against smokers.

Tax policy should not be used for social meddling. If the tax increase is justified as a way of getting smokers to quit, this is the wrong reason.  The state should not be using the power to tax as a way to punish or reward behavior.

I would vote to cut spending in other areas not of vital importance rather than raise taxes, what would you do?

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