09/02/09 Cigarette Taxes Linked to Child Care in the USA

On the 4th February of this year the House of Congress passed a bill which expands the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $32.8 billion.  This bill generates the extra revenue by increasing the tax on each pack of cigarettes by 62 cents, which will provide health insurance coverage to 4 million children.

On the face of it this may look like a great idea – after all, it means that uninsured children will now be guaranteed healthcare.  The problem? That cigarette consumption is now required to stay at the same level or increase to keep the aforementioned guarantee.  If cigarette consumption falls by a large enouch percentage then a certain number of children will be struck off the new scheme and will remain uninsured.  Obviously this has dramatic implications: on the one hand the government is doing everything it can to turn smokers into social outcasts and force them hokum pokum information that smoking will, unequivocally, kill them.  Yet on the other hand they are, underhandedly, needing smokers to continue the habit.

Personally, I have no problem with the government ceasing their assault on smokers – in fact, I await the day with glee.  My problem comes from the hypocrisy of it all: we would expect smokers to be treated with more respect and care from the government given they are essentially solely responsible for the health insurance of 4 million children. But somehow the government is simultaneously telling smokers to quit “for the good of the children”.

If this bill leads to a more sensitive approach to smokers, through giving them their rights back and not continuously trying to alienate them, they so be it.  As far as I am concerned that is great – tobacco smoking is, probably, one of the only things that can be guaranteed to continue provided people are not brainwashed into thinking it is suicide. If this bill means an end to the over-funded, loud-mouthed anti-smoking crusade that has got far too big for its boots then that is fantastic.  But the danger is that the anti-smoking crusade won’t stop, and America will continue it’s two-faced love affair with both the tobacco industry and the pharmaceutical industry.

This is not the first time something like this has happened.  The Master Settlement Agreement rendered the States entirely dependent on high cigarette consumption to be able to increase their budgets and generally improve the condition of their respective states.  The Attorney’s General befriended Big Tobacco, relieving them of a $10 billion payout that would have resulted from a courtcase in Illionois.  So the reality of the situation is that the USA is publicly bad-mouthing the tobacco industry, whilst behind the scenes giving it lots of love and cuddles and keeping it healthy. Clearly, this is confusing.

The bill has a further problem too: cigarettes are once again being used to end problems.  Why is it that most of the cigarette smokers belong to under-priveleged classes yet are responsible for solving monetary problems?  Moreover, why are smokers getting the full burden instead of just a fair share?  Once again smokers are being used like pawns in chess, as part of a sick, twisted game.

To sum this all up: a percentage of the poorest people in the country are solely responsible for 4 million children receiving healthcare.  The government is either confused or boldly lying to the public and rather than offering the due respect to smokers they are still hounding them.  Smokers need to continue smoking now, not just out of pride, defiance, habit or enjoying their vice, but literally to support millions of uninsured children.  With any luck this will be a big nail in the coffin of the tobacco control movement.  Time will tell.

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