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Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2000 /10 Shevat, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Time for smokers' revolt? -- ATTENTION, ADULT SMOKERS: Put down your butts and get off your duffs. At the dawn of the new millenium, you are an endangered species.

The health rajahs aren't satisfied with pushing you out of airplanes, restaurants, bars, and hospital parking lots. The $250 billion tobacco settlement wasn't enough to quench the thirst of state governments addicted to tobacco revenue. No, the neo-Prohibitionist nosybodies who don't have the guts or honesty to simply outlaw your personal choice have a stealthier strategy:

They will tax you out of existence.

In Canada last week, Health Minister Alan Rock declared his intention to "tax the hell" out of tobacco. Tobacco, of course, doesn't pay taxes. Millions of law-abiding smokers do. And in Canada, as in the U.S., those targeted taxpayers who engage in government-disapproved vices more than foot their own bills. Canadians pay their government more than $8 billion a year in so-called sin taxes.

But not all sins are equal. Anti-tobacco forces argue that smokers impose higher health costs on society and should thus pay higher taxes. Yet, no Canadian health official has called for new taxes on other voluntary activities that also invite risk and cause illness or injury.

"Junk food, lack of exercise, rock and mountain climbing and roller- blading all contribute to more medical problems and higher costs," noted the Vancouver Sun. "If we follow the health critic's logic, we should impose a new tax on people who have a higher level of cholesterol. Then, perhaps, a tax on snowboarding would be in order. What's next? How about a brand new tax on people who drive to work? After all, thousands of Canadians turn up at hospitals for medical treatment after a car accident."

Ridiculous, eh? Well, such selective Big Nannyism is to be expected from regulators in a country with a socialist health care system. But south of the Canadian border, stateside Republicans - yes, those tax-cutting, freedom-loving Republicans -- are the latest anti-ciggie piggies to support tax hikes on smokers.

In New York this month, GOP governor George Pataki signed off on a 55-cent-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax. "Cigarette smoking has an enormous negative impact on people's health, and it drives up the cost of health insurance and health care in New York for all of us," lectured Pataki. With conservatives like Pataki, who needs the Clintons? Even the president failed to secure a hike in the federal tobacco taxes by 50 cents last year.

There is, literally, a nickel's worth of difference between social engineers in the White House and the New York statehouse.

Pataki's new tax will raise $500 million a year for a massive expansion of publicly-financed health care. PatakiCare rivals ClintonCare in audacity and wrong-headedness. The plan will purportedly cure the problem of the uninsured by creating a host of new health insurance subsidies. But more government intervention is not the answer.

The crisis is the result of imbecilic insurance regulations, such as guaranteed issue and community rating, which drove up premiums and made health insurance less affordable for everyone. After New York passed "reforms" to its market for individually-purchased health insurance in 1993, the largest carrier in the state suffered huge losses and abandoned the business. The number of individual policyholders (self-employed workers and others who buy insurance themselves as opposed to employer-sponsored plans) fell by nearly 20 percent statewide.

These market-ruining mandates were supported by Republicans and remain in place today. Instead of fixing their regulatory blunders, elected officials instead passed the buck to working-class smokers. It should be noted that cigars -- the nicotine-delivery device most favored by fatcat lobbyists in both parties - are exempt from Pataki's tobacco tax grab.

Elsewhere, Republican governors in Arizona, Utah, and Florida have stood idly by while state legislatures soaked smokers to pay for a host of public programs. The national GOP has fared no better. On Jan. 1, the federal cigarette tax will rise from 24 cents to 34 cents.

More than two centuries ago, a little tea party in Boston gave rise to a free republic. When will the nation's 45 million adult smokers wake up and take up their forefathers' revolt against tyrannical taxation?

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate