More defense of punishing taxes (and the fundamental anti-THR lies) from the tobacco control industry

posted by Carl V Phillips

Not the plan for the day, but I just came across this post (h/t Snowdon) praising the punishment of the poor via cigarette taxes in New York, which I wrote about here before.  It was written by a rather evil woman, Sheelah A. Feinberg, Executive director, NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City.  Well, maybe she is just misguided.  Nah, no one could innocently be quite that misguided.

There is much to say about how awful her post is overall, and I trust others will say more (I will add links if I come across them), so I will stay as on-topic as possible.  The background is that research has shown that poor smokers in New York City are spending about 25% of their income on cigarettes — or more precisely, spending almost all of that on cigarette taxes.  The anti-smoking zealots who have inflicted those taxes seem to think inflicting that pain is just fine.

As I noted in the previous post, the high taxes are clearly designed to punish people for smoking.  All the sputtering protests in the world claiming this is not the true do nothing to diminish that rather obvious point.  Feinberg’s post implicitly acknowledges the legitimacy of the criticism of by protesting too much without actually making any arguments that the claim is wrong.  She has nothing more to offer than “nuh-uh!”:

Smokers’ rights advocates argue that this proves high taxes on cigarettes are punitive and regressive. We couldn’t disagree more.

First, it is obviously not just smokers’ rights advocates who feel that way.   Second, the taxes are clearly regressive, whatever someone’s opinion about smokers or smoking — that is simple arithmetic.  So, Feinberg and her crowd fail at simple arithmetic once again.  But moving beyond the obvious factual lies that are seemingly inevitable when the tobacco control industry speaks, we get to the interesting bit, the attempt to claim this is not punitive:

High cigarettes taxes are not punitive; they save lives. ….only one element of a comprehensive strategy that has effectively reduced smoking rates well below the national rate.  ….  The dramatic decline in smoking rates…proves we know what works.

Set aside the fact that anti-smoking activists in places like New York take credit for living somewhere that the demographics are such that smoking will inevitably be lower than the national average.  Accept her premise that these policies really get the credit.  How do high taxes save lives?

By punishing people for smoking, obviously.  Consider a minor variation on her claim:

Imprisonment is not punitive, it reduces crime.

The act of making a behavior more costly to engage in, solely for the purpose of discouraging that behavior, is the definition of punishment.  Whatever the goals and the ostensible accomplishments of the punishment, it is still punishment.  Thus, the premise of her post consists of two obvious factual errors — so obvious to anyone who gives them any thought that we must assume they are lies.

So does she say anything to try to defend the lies?  One sentence:

Higher taxes don’t in fact burden low-income households: smoking does.

That is so crushingly moronic that I have to wonder if Huffington Post even has editors (answer: not really) and if all of its readers will just believe anything their read as long as it represents the “right” politics (answer: apparently).  Whether or not smoking burdens poor people (notice the use of “households” — a cute way of trying to bury the fact that we are talking about people), the taxes clearly burden people.

I am guessing that if Feinberg were better at communicating her thoughts, or was not just counting on her naive readers to eat up her claims without noticing obvious falsehoods, she might have said something not quite so stupid like:  If people would just stop smoking, then the taxes would not hurt them anymore, so the taxes are not to blame.  If she had actually articulated such an argument, it would require a slightly more complicated rebuttal than just pointing out that what she said was patently false.

That rebuttal is based on the concept of the “last clear cost avoider”:  In any series of actions that lead to a burden or cost, one of them is the last chance to avoid the cost, and should be thought of as the action that imposed the cost.  The law and normal people certainly think of it that way.  Assuming this is what Feinberg was trying to communicate, she is making the “argument” that is exemplified by the domestic abuser: “if she hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have hit her, so it is her own fault”.

Bringing it back to the present case:  Tobacco exists.  People like it.  People do smoke.  Therefore, the last chance to avoid the burden imposed by taxes rests with those who impose the taxes.  The pro-tax argument is the equivalent of the physical abuser who punches  someone for smoking and defends it by saying, “it is not my fault because I told her not to smoke.”

So where does Feinberg retreat from that clear guilt.  Of course, it is to the big lies — the fundamental anti-THR lies — that no one wants to use tobacco/nicotine and they only do it because they were tricked and lack willpower:

It is unethical that the poorest New Yorkers are paying cigarette taxes and not getting the most effective help possible to resist tobacco addiction or quit if they’ve already started. We need to implement policies to reduce the tobacco industry’s ability to target low-income populations.

Funny.  Her diatribe started out with some words that suggested she wanted to help people.  But it ended up at the same old tired place, where people’s welfare is a concept that does not even exist, and all that exists are merely choices to be thwarted.  Smokers (poor and otherwise) receive treatment that resembles vermin control: their preferences are of no consequence except where they can be used to manipulate behavior in the desired direction (e.g., by punishing).

It is unethical that the poorest are paying these taxes — that is where that sentence should have ended.  But it is also unethical to ignore their other preferences.  The best possible option to provide for smokers who do not really prefer to be abstinent from tobacco and nicotine, all else equal (i.e., most smokers), would be a cigarette that was tax-free and harm-free.  It is a matter of simple economics that this would clearly improve their lives compared to either the current situation or abstinence.

Is that possible?  Not exactly, but close.  It is certainly a lot closer to reality than that mythical “the most help possible to resist tobacco addiction”.  Encouraging switching to low-risk alternatives, while making sure that such products are sold at competitive market prices, comes remarkably close to eliminating both the risk and the punishing price, while keeping most of the welfare benefits of  smoking and perhaps even improving upon them.  Given that this is a practical option, and that it is violently rejected by the people who love those taxes, there can be no doubt that not only are they punishing poor people, but they prefer to punish poor people.

Members of the tobacco control industry never actually state the key falsehood that their entire operation is premised on:  People get no benefits from smoking/tobacco/nicotine.  This is so obviously a lie, that even these perennial liars will not claim it.  But it is only this premise that can support their absurd claims about why people smoke, and their implicit claims (seldom made explicit because these are also obvious lies) that people are better off being punished until they do something they are not choosing to do absent the punishment.  But it is also exactly this premise (along with the myth of having some secret method for getting everyone to quit) that is the only way for anti-tobacco extremists to defend opposition to THR without having to admit that they do not really care about people.

There are frequently political divides among advocates for THR, advocates for smokers’ rights, and advocates for improving the welfare of downtrodden substance users.  But people in these three groups should realize that all three are ultimately fighting against this same absurd premise of no benefits, a premise that appears to trace to people who are either too unintelligent or too close to autistic to be able to think “I would not want to be doing that” without jumping immediately to “and therefore it must be that no one wants to be doing that.”

9 responses to “More defense of punishing taxes (and the fundamental anti-THR lies) from the tobacco control industry

  1. Terrific post, as always! I love how you see these things, and the way you write to help us understand the lies and hypocrisy in the TC ANTZ!

  2. Alan Selk (Stubby)

    “We need to implement policies to reduce the tobacco industry’s ability to target low-income populations.”

    I always cringe when I hear the statement that it is all the fault of the evil tobacco companies. It’s one of the great myths pushed by the ANTZ. It appears that if it wasn’t for the big tobacco companies no one would use tobacco. It pushes another myth that “tobacco has no merit and people get nothing from it”. It’s merely an addiction that…….. if people only knew better they could happily live without.

    I recently finished reading “The Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens. It’s a long rambling novel, but I was impressed by how many characters used tobacco. Nearly everyone was sniffing, chewing, or smoking every chance they got. England was surely a den of evil in Dickens time. And all that tobacco use was done without the help of BAT, RJ Reynolds, or Phillip Morris. Strange indeed.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Nice point about the pre-industrial era.

      I agree that blaming the merchants and “addiction” are absurd. They are definitely part of that fundamental lie — that no one gets any benefit from smoking etc. Without such absurdities to retreat to, the original lie would be, well, a bit strained. As it is, I should probably consider counting those as part of the fundamental lie bedrock — they are so closely entwined with the “no benefit” lie that they do not really separate.

      Thanks.

  3. And the biggest lie of all? That the Enjoyment of Tobacco is a matter for Public Health,. It is not. It is a matter of Private Health.
    It is upon this lie that the whole Industry of Tobacco Control is built.
    Consider these principles:
    a) Smoking is a matter of Private Health.
    b) Tobacco Control was unable and/or unwilling to produce its proof (the Doll and Hill Doctors Study) in the McTear V Imperial Tobacco Company Case that smoking causes lung cancer.
    c) That SHS is harmless as regards any sort of mortal danger.

    Those are the realities, and it is because they are the realities that the Zealots have to engage in illogical conflations.
    I think that there is little point in even trying to discuss with the Zealots, not because they are zealots, but because they are liars and know that they are liars. Their lies and propaganda are deliberate. ASH ET AL are advertising agencies doing what they are paid to do. Do not engage with them on facts – just point out that they are mere advertising agencies. Not only that, but ASH is there to absorb criticism and distract attention from the real Tobacco Control Zealots. They are the quack Professors and Doctors. The whole thing is a racket.

  4. “The pro-tax argument is the equivalent of the physical abuser who punches someone for smoking and defends it by saying, “it is not my fault because I told her not to smoke.””

    Interesting observation. And, in essence, absolutely true. Antismokers will say “Go stand outside in the cold to smoke.” with the idea that it will reduce the number of people who smoke, and will then look at those people outside and say “They deserve to be cold because they’ve chosen to go out there to smoke.” That’ really not much different than saying “Go stand outside where you’ll get little electric shocks every 30 seconds while you smoke” (in classical rat-conditioning behavioral modification) or, “Go stand outside where you’ll get random punches while you smoke.” The main difference is that the last two options involve “active” negative conditioning while the first option involves a more “passive” form.

    We’re seeing the principle applied on college campuses all around the country right now as the government engages in a truly *MASSIVE* experiment in conditioning the rats… er… students… not to smoke:

    “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced an initiative to ban smoking from college campuses last month. This is part of the HHS goal to create a society free of tobacco-related disease and death, according to their action plan released by the HHS in 2010. Colleges who fail to enact campus-wide smoking bans and other tobacco-free policies may soon face the loss of grants and contracts from the HHS,”

    That’s at http://www.westernfrontonline.net/news/article_f8068f12-0efe-11e2-8b41-001a4bcf6878.html?mode=story (You’ll notice there are no comments. WesternFrontOnline evidently believes in censoring commenting as I submitted a comment to them 23 hours ago and they have not yet published it.)

    In terms of taxes, the rats have turned: the proportion of smokers who gladly buy black market cigarettes without moral compunctions nowadays is staggering in high-tax areas. The disrespect for the government and for our tax system that is encouraged by such illegitimate taxes is a crop that will grow into far more widely reaching and damaging consequences in the future. In terms of bans we’ll see the same sort of thing: the movement from seeing the “the policeman is your friend” mentality into seeing “the policeman is your enemy” mentality. The damage to a democratic system of government by such basic changes in attitude can be enormous — but the Antismokers don’t give a damn: it’s just collateral damage in the War On Smoking.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  5. Speaking of punishment…In the larger cities in North Dakota, fairly comprehensive smoking bans are already in place. Many businesses have invested considerable sums to build outdoor shelters for their employees and patrons. Most are heated and all are adequately vented. Now a group of ANTZ has managed to get a ballot initiative approved that will remove several exemptions from the ban including nursing homes and all hotel & motel rooms. Of course, they redefined smoking to include use of e-cigarettes. But the worst part is that they redefined “enclosed area” to include any area with more than 33% walls, and walls include fences, etc. In other words, the designated outdoor smoking shelters will become smoke-free! If you have any idea of what a North Dakota winter is like, well being outdoors without shelter is definitely punishment. It can be deadly.

  6. That’s the whole idea Elaine. Negative conditioning will not work if the shocks aren’t sufficient to discourage the undesirable behavior. Wind shields and roofs make the outdoor areas into fairly comfortable places to hang out — so they have to be gotten rid of.

    There have been posters in the past who’ve pointed out that in many US states it would be illegal to put pigs in shelters designed for smokers: pig pens have certain minimum standards for protection from the environment that are not met by smoking shelter strictures.

    – MJM

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