Nassau County Cigarette Tax Good For Your Health, And For Your Wallet
Okay. The Coalition of Nassau County Cigarette Smokers is headed over to the offices of the New York Civil Liberties Union claiming that the civil rights of smokers would be violated by yet another tax on smokes.
Yes, those slowly commiting suicide through the inhalation of toxins are heard to complain that their nasty little habit -- which already costs society millions in health care, insurance premiums, and lost work hours -- may cost them more per pack, if the State Legislature gives Nassau County the right to place a $2/pack tax on cigarettes -- a tax similar to that already imposed in New York City, where it cost $1.50 more as down payment to the Grim Reaper.
Breathe easy, you budding emphesymics and future lung transplant candidates. In a State Legislature that can't even pass a bigger, better bottle bill, it is highly unlikely that they'll get around to hiking the tax on cigarettes.
And that's a real shame, not so much that we want to save the lives of those who puff away with abandon -- let alone harbor a willful disregard for those of us who have to endure that second-hand smoke -- but because we all would benefit [as in lower health insurance premiums, healthier children, fewer hospital stays, lower incidence of cancer, heart disease, and lung disease, and more money in the county coffers] by the sheer economics of a cigarette tax.
Make it $10 a pack. $20 a pack. $100 a pack. If you are going to kill yourself, spare no expense!
Will increasing the tax on cigarettes cut down on smoking? Well, surely some would forego eating or paying their rent for that nicotine fix. Others, astute enough to run the numbers -- or who have had the misfortune of watching a friend or relative come to a painful end by way of lung cancer -- may find that this is just the incentive they need to finally kick the habit. And for some -- like our children -- perhaps that sticker shock would mean they won't ever start!
There is no benefit to smoking, efforts by big tobacco to convince us otherwise. Even ardent smokers can't make a poignant argument in favor of taking a drag, this in between trying to catch their breath and get the stale stench of old stoggies out of their clothing.
There are, however, clear benefits to a cigarette tax, if not from the smokers' clouded view, then certainly from ours.
What does a pack of cigarettes cost a smoker, the smoker's family, and society? One longitudinal study (The Price of Smoking) on the private and social costs of smoking calculates that the cost of smoking to a 24-year-old woman smoker at $86,000 over a lifetime; for a 24-year-old male smoker the cost is $183,000. The total social cost of smoking over a lifetime -- including both private costs to the smoker and costs imposed on others (including second-hand smoke and costs of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) -- comes to $106,000 for a woman and $220,000 for a man. The cost per pack over a lifetime of smoking: almost $40.00.
You do the math. Smokers and non-smokers alike pay the price.
As for the New York State Legislature, someone among the ranks ought to calculate the cost before tabling Tom Suozzi's cig tax proposal.
The smoke-filled rooms in Albany may be gone, but the very real dangers of smoking -- be they physical or fiscal -- are not!
Yes, smokers will admonish us for preaching. Hmmm. Would they rather we preach now, or deliver the eulogy at the funeral?
- - -
A Tax to Clear the Air
Thomas Suozzi, the Nassau Executive, has taken a step from Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City in pushing county government to be a lot more aggressive in promoting the health and well-being of its citizens. A few years ago, Mr. Bloomberg raised the city tax on cigarettes to $1.50 a pack. Mr. Suozzi wants to make it $2 a pack in Nassau, and is urging the New York State Legislature to give him permission.
He made the plea this month not just on Nassau’s behalf, but on behalf of seven other counties surrounding New York City — the thought being that what’s good for the city is good for the region, and that suburban counties should not become tobacco havens for jittery New Yorkers crossing borders to stretch their nicotine dollars further.
Mr. Suozzi’s idea hasn’t exactly taken off. There doesn’t even appear to be any bandwagon to jump on — no other county’s leaders have risen to second the Nassau motion. And the odds of the plan’s succeeding in Albany are indeed long if Nassau cannot get one of its Republican state senators to sponsor a bill in the Republican-controlled Senate. One senator, Kemp Hannon of Garden City, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, immediately made it clear that he thinks it’s a bad idea. He supports programs to help people quit smoking, and would raise the minimum age for buying tobacco to 21, but he doesn’t want a new tax.
That’s unfortunate. Mr. Suozzi and his allies, Assemblywoman Earlene Hooper of Hempstead and Judy Jacobs, presiding officer of the Nassau Legislature, are right on this one. Some critics have made predictable arguments about Big Brother — or Big Nanny, if you prefer — picking taxpayers’ pockets for a moral crusade. But government should be able to use its power to influence behavior in a way that promotes public health. It is true, and frustrating, that this power is wielded in a highly inconsistent way, that the same officials who want you to quit smoking also want you to throw your paycheck down the toilet of a state-sanctioned lottery, casino or racetrack. But sin taxes like the ones Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Suozzi support are generally good public policy.
The benefits Mr. Suozzi is seeking are not only medical. He figures that the tax could raise about $26 million to $31 million in revenue that Nassau badly needs. That is a decent argument, but far from the best one. Smoking is declining in New York City, for a lot of reasons that surely include the increasingly daunting cost of a pack of coffin nails. It is encouraging news for anyone who breathes, and officials from Nassau up to Rensselaer should join Mr. Suozzi in doing what they can to keep that good trend going.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
- - -
Click HERE to read articles on the real cost of smoking.