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Why I voted against the tobacco tax

by Dennis Prager

June 27, 2012 | 2:38 pm

A few weeks ago, California voters narrowly rejected another tax increase not only on cigarettes, but also on those mass murderers — cigar and pipe smokers. As expected, proponents of Proposition 29 blame its defeat on all the money tobacco companies spent on ads against the proposition. Whenever a candidate or vote supported by progressives is defeated, the loss is attributed to money. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was not recalled? This, too, was explained by money, not by the widespread taxpayer revulsion with public employee unions helping to bankrupt states (like California).

On the other hand, in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama became the first major-party candidate to reject public campaign funding and raised more than $740 million in private money, outspending Republican John McCain nearly 4-to-1, no progressives complained that the Obama win was due to money. Nor, it should be noted, did conservatives.

Those who complain about tobacco companies spending against Proposition 29 also ignore the many hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-tobacco ads spent by the state of California and by anti-smoking organizations over the last decades. Not to mention the anti-tobacco messages drummed into young people from first grade through high school.

This California voter saw a total of one anti-Proposition 29 ad and voted against the proposition for many reasons. I suspect that most other Californians who voted against the proposition — the vast majority of whom, like me, do not smoke cigarettes, know how unhealthy they are and are repelled by their smell — did so for similar reasons.

(Full disclosure: I have smoked cigars and a pipe since I was a teenager; my father, 93 years old, has smoked cigars nearly every day for about 70 years, and my sons and I have some of our most wonderful father-son talks over cigars.)

Many of us reject the notion that people — especially poor people, who make up the bulk of cigarette smokers — should have their hard-earned money taken from them at astronomical rates just because they engage in what is a potentially lethal activity.

This will stun anti-tobacco zealots, but given a choice between avoiding health risks and taking away individual liberty, many Americans actually come down on the side of liberty. Moreover, it is, to put it mildly, a morally confused society that uses public funds to pay perfectly healthy women to destroy perfectly healthy human fetuses/babies, but takes away huge amounts of people’s money for engaging in an act that adversely affects only them. (Readers who believe the made-up statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year from secondhand smoke, but who prefer science to propaganda, might wish to read, among many other studies and articles, two that are linked to in the online version of this story. One, on the Your Doctor’s Orders Web site, discusses the myth of secondhand smoke. The other is a National Institutes of Health report on the same topic.)

I warned 20 years ago that the war against tobacco was morally misguided. If morality was the animating impulse, why was there no similar war against alcohol, attempting to tax it out of existence, banning its ads, etc.? Cigarette smokers can hurt themselves, but alcohol is frequently involved in murder and other cases of violent crime, particularly sexual assault; drunken drivers kill and maim tens of thousands of Americans each year; and most child and spousal abuse is accompanied by alcohol. No one rapes, drives into vehicles filled with families, or abuses a spouse because of having smoked a cigarette or cigar.

Too much alcohol impairs the ability of the conscience to function properly. Too many cigarettes or cigars have no impact on the conscience.

If no American drank alcohol, virtually no one in America would die or be maimed at the hands of drunken drivers; child and spousal abuse would be reduced by an incredible two-thirds; murders of strangers would be reduced by about a third; the incidence of rape and other sexual assaults would be significantly reduced; and millions of children would not have the permanent disability of having grown up with an alcoholic parent. (A link to Bureau of Justice statistics can be found in the online version of this story.)

On the other hand, if no American smoked — or, for that matter, if all Americans smoked — it would have no effect on the number of Americans killed or maimed by other drivers; the number of children, spouses or other intimates abused: and no adverse effect on children’s psyches.

What is mind-blowing is that none of these facts matter to the anti-smoking and other health fanatics.

I also warned that, following tobacco, other unhealthy products would be banned or unfairly taxed. Sure enough, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed that the city ban servings of sugar-based sodas in cups larger than 16 ounces.

Having not drunk a sugared beverage since childhood, I think any overweight person who drinks regular soda is making a big mistake. But I would prefer to live in a country of obese citizens who are free than in a country of thin citizens who are not.

There are now calls for banning the sale of popcorn at movie theaters. Eventually, citizens will have to carry calorie cards that limit how much an individual will be allowed to consume in any given day. If health trumps liberty, why not?

When one adds the virtual certitude that most funds from yet another tax would be squandered by the state, there was no good or moral reason to have voted for Proposition 29.

Had the tax passed, many, if not most, of the cigar stores in California would have gone out of business. In addition to costing our beleaguered state more jobs, that would have broken my heart. When I visit one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, Fat Stogies on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, I sit and shmooze with other guys — most recently an Orthodox Jew, an Armenian, a black and one or both of the Arab brothers who own the store — and thank God for an America where men from such diverse backgrounds can so enjoy each other. And I thank my dad for introducing me to the joy of cigars. So, please leave us alone. We’re not hurting anyone.

For two articles on secondhand smoke and a link to Bureau of Justice statistics on alcohol and violence, visit:


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).
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