by Carl V Phillips
This is tangential, but goes to some big-picture issue, and it is bugging me so much I want to complain about it. It also relates to those anti-THR liars at the American Lung Association (ALA) and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids who seem to be spearheading these lies about economics.
Presumably due to the not-so-secret secret coordination of the ANTZ and their pet reporters, trying to create the illusion of spontaneous expressions of concern, there have been a spate of articles recently about how the government is not giving the tobacco control industry (TCI) what they think they are owed. In this piece (a random selection from any of a hundred I could have chosen), an ALA representative suggests that all the money the states collect from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) should be spent on the TCI. The mind boggles at what the TCI would do with the literally billions of dollars more every year this would represent.
The MSA is often described as a fee paid by the cigarette manufacturers, but this is a carefully engineered lie. It is really a hidden sales tax on the price of each pack of cigarettes, that happens to be collected by the manufacturers before being paid to the government — it is paid by smokers, not industry. This probably annoys those who do not really care about health, but only about hurting the industry (though most of them are probably too dim to see through the lie). But it actually serves a purpose for those who want to reduce smoking rates, since like any sales tax or other price increase, it discourages consumption.
Now setting aside the question of whether such taxes are ethical and otherwise proper, let us assume that the total taxes are set at the “right” level (also setting aside the question of what that means, and the ethics and question of whether governments should even be doing this) for this goal. Does this mean that the amount collected is exactly the “right” level (same caveat) to spend on anti-smoking efforts? Obviously not. There is no reason to expect any relationship whatsoever between those numbers.
You do not need a degree in economics to see that. It is clear that even if one likes what the TCI tries to do, much of what is spent on their research and social manipulation projects is already wasted. They have no idea what to do with the money they have. The mind-blowing massive increase that would come from spending all tobacco taxes on them would clearly be wasted. Of course, they would love to quintuple their salaries, but I think most everyone else would agree this counts as a waste. [UPDATE: I should have noted here that even the American Legacy Foundation, the anti-tobacco “charity” created with billions of dollars of MSA money, agrees that there is nothing useful to spend the money on. They have just been hoarding the money, and spending it on lavish salaries for their executives, rather than spending it on marketing, programs, or research. There is no clearer evidence that there simply is nothing useful (by their own measures) in anti-tobacco that is not already over-funded.]
What should the extra money be spent on, then? It does not matter. The TCI people are specifically complaining that it gets spent on fixing bridges. (They are idiots. We need to spend more on fixing bridges. But that is not the point…) But it does not matter whether it goes into the state’s general coffers, or is used to reduce income taxes, or is doled out to the people, or whatever. No matter which, it has served its real purpose (caveat again).
This can go the other direction too. As I show in this paper, the optimal tax on smokeless tobacco or e-cigarettes — optimized from any of several perspectives, including maximizing the population health effects — is zero. (It is actually negative — that is, a subsidy — but that is unrealistic to even suggest.) So does that mean that the optimal expenditure on efforts to discourage use of these products is zero? The TCI certainly does not think so, and even non-ANTZ might see some value in putting a few resources into discouraging non-smoking children from using these products.
So this claim that they ought to get a larger share of the taxes, just because those taxes happen to be tobacco sales taxes, is just like most of their anti-tobacco rhetoric: it is complete fiction and demonstrates their lack of honesty; it shows contempt for people’s understanding of science (which might be justified as a practical matter); it tries to increase people’s misunderstanding of science (which is clearly not justified as an ethical matter); and it shows their fundamental self-centeredness and general contempt for humanity.
Perhaps if they are so sure that these numbers should match, someone should propose making them match — by lowering tobacco taxes by more than 90%. Their “logic” supports that solution to the disparity just as effectively as it supports their personal enrichment proposal.