Monday, May 04, 2009

Nassau County Cigarette Tax Up In Smoke?

Tax It And They May Quit

And here we were, thinking that any measure which would encourage folks to quit smoking was a good thing.

With the county of Nassau poised to adopt a $2 tax per pack of Cancer sticks, concerns are being raised -- and debated before the County Legislature -- that tax revenues may actually decrease should smokers quit rather than pay.

We say, take the chance.

After all, getting people to give up that nasty, smelly, health-endangering habit not only saves lives (and you don't need to read the Surgeon Generals' reports to know that), it saves millions of dollars per year in health care, hospital care, and hospice care costs -- all of which saves the public money.

And with more money in the pockets of smokers and non-smokers alike, discretionary spending -- with or without the "lure" of cigarettes -- will increase, invariably boosting sales tax revenues.

Smokers' rights groups (if there are such a thing, beyond the tobacco companies and smokers at the Office of Legislative Budget Review) can convolute logic and skew statistics all they want. Anything that may get even a single smoker to kick the habit is a good thing.

On the other hand, if you insist on lighting up, we shouldn't make it easy, or less expensive.

Tack on that county tax of $2 per pack. In fact, make it $5 dollars. Let's see if smokers will outlive their money!
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Nassau cigarette tax hike could backfire, county report says

A proposed cigarette tax of $2 per-pack in Nassau County could damage the local economy and raise less money than expected if smokers quit and make fewer discretionary purchases, a new report says.The report was released Friday evening by the county's Office of Legislative Budget Review in anticipation of a public hearing Monday by the Nassau County Legislature on the home-rule legislation asking Albany's permission to enact the tax.

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi said he proposed the tax as a health measure and to raise $25 million to $30 million annually, depending on how the state legislation is structured. Suozzi's press secretary, Jennifer Kim, said Sunday the administration had not seen the report and would not comment.

Cigarette purchases are considered "a core product...luring individuals into a store. When cigarette sales decline, employers are forced to cut back staff," the report said. The stores will lose sales on gasoline, beverages, magazines and other items, and the county will lose the sales tax that goes with them, the report said.

An increase in revenue of about $32 million a year from the tax would be offset by the loss of sales tax from fewer cigarette sales ($4.7 million), less sales tax from people who lose their jobs ($2.5 million) and less discretionary buying ($7.6 million), leaving the county with a next gain of about $17.3 million, the report said.

The report addressed only the direct impact of imposing the tax, and did not discuss any environmental or health benefits from fewer people smoking.

Last May, there were 5.3 million packs of cigarettes sold in Nassau County, and after the state increased its cigarette tax by $1.25 in June, consumption dropped to 2.5 million packs by this March, the report said.With the Nassau tax pegged at $2, the drop-off may be greater, the report said.

Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.
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Who paid for this report, Philip Morris?
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The following is reprinted from Uncle John’s Curiously Compelling Bathroom Reader.

They say the only certainties are death and taxes. Death may be the better option…

Oliver Wendell Holmes called taxes “the price we pay for civilization.” But few things provoke more outrage in people than being taxed. The first recorded tax evader was imprisoned by Holy Roman Emperor Constantine in A.D. 306. The greatest revolt in English history occurred in 1381 when Richard II imposed a poll, or “head,” tax. The first armed rebellions against the newly formed United States were Shay’s Rebellion in 1786 (by New England farmers against property taxes) and the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 (against a liquor tax). During the French Revolution in 1789, all tax collectors were rounded up and sent to the guillotine. And despite all that, governments persist in extracting revenue from their reluctant citizenry. Here are some of the more peculiar examples through the centuries:

Imposed by the Roman emperor Nero, around A.D. 60. Why urine? The contents of public toilets were collected by tanners and laundry workers for the ammonia, which was used for curing leather and bleaching togas. Nero slapped a fee on the collectors (not the producers) and it was such a money-raiser that Nero’s successor, Vespasian, continued the tax. When his son, Titus, complained about the gross nature of the tax, Vespasian is reputed to have held up a gold coin and said, “Non olet” (“This doesn’t stink”).

Peter the Great, czar of Russia, imposed a tax on souls in 1718…meaning everybody had to pay it (it’s similar to a head tax or a poll tax). Peter was antireligious (he was an avid fan of Voltaire and other secular humanist philosophers), but agreeing with him didn’t excuse anyone from paying the tax—if you didn’t believe humans had a soul, you still had to pay a “religious dissenters” tax. Peter also taxed beards, beehives, horse collars, hats, boots, basements, chimneys, food, clothing, all males, as well as birth, marriage, and even burial.

A favorite strategy of governments to encourage population growth and raise money at the same time. Julius Caesar tried it in 18 B.C. The English imposed it in 1695. The Russians under Peter the Great used it in 1702, as did the Missouri legislature in 1820. The Spartans of ancient Greece didn’t care about the money—they preferred public humiliation. Bachelors in Sparta were required to march around the public market in wintertime stark naked, while singing a song making fun of their unmarried status.

In 1795 powdered wigs were all the rage in men’s fashion. Desperate for income to pay for military campaigns abroad, British prime minister William Pitt the Younger levied a tax on wig powder. Although the tax was short-lived due to the protests against it, it did ultimately have the effect of changing men’s fashions. By 1820 powdered wigs were out of style.

Pitt the Younger also tried a chimney tax, but found that windows were easier to count. People paid the tax based on the number of windows in their home. Result: a lot of boarded-up windows.

On June 30, 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department stopped collecting a 3% federal excise tax on long-distance calls—familiar to billpayers as one of a list of taxes tacked onto every phone bill. The purpose of the tax? To help pay for the Spanish-American war…in 1898. Phone service was so rare at the time that the tax was intended to impact only the wealthiest Americans. But the tax persisted long after the war ended, and virtually every American household ended up paying it. “It’s not often you get to kill a tax,” Treasury Secretary John Snow said after the tax was repealed, “particularly one that goes back so far in history.” Taxpayers can file for a refund for the last three years the tax existed…but not for the previous 105. (Note: There’s still a 3% excise tax on local phone calls.)

Reprinted from Uncle John’s Curiously Compelling Bathroom Reader. ©2006 by the Bathroom Reader’s Press.

Maybe we shouldn't give the taxing authorities in New York any ideas. They'll just create another special taxing district. . .

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