FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - January 16, 2009
Contact Audrey Silk, NYC C.L.A.S.H., (917) 888-9317
SCHIP: CONGRESS GETS IN LINE TO TREAT SMOKERS AS NON-PERSONS
Established in 2000 with a particular eye on New York, C.L.A.S.H. (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment) has grown into a nationally active grassroots organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and protecting the interests of adults who choose to smoke tobacco. It's now comprised of citizens from all over the country who have bonded together in the common conviction that smokers have been scapegoated: unmercifully demonized and financially punished by legislatures where they have never been granted the right to be heard or to defend their patent interests. This is illustrated starkly by the proposal to fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) through increased taxation on people who use tobacco in any of its forms.
____________________________In case it's been overlooked, tobacco doesn't pay taxes, people do -- and a minority (43.4 million people  ) have been repeatedly singled out to pay for government programs that ostensibly benefit society as a whole . C.L.A.S.H., joined by other like-minded organizations, is appalled that the interests of this large constituency have never been represented, or even considered, by the legislators who claim to represent all. No one from any of our organizations has ever been invited to any official meeting or congressional hearing on matters that so very vitally concern us-- and negatively impact us-- both financially and socially.
Historically, government has stepped in to protect minorities from being beaten up. This time lawmakers choose to join the mob and land kicks of their own, and to further codify a manufactured intolerance into national tax policy.
Adult citizens who smoke have de facto become a "class" thanks to anti-smoker crusaders. However, unlike any other classes, we've been allowed no voice at the legislative level. We adamantly reject the bizarre contention that Public Health "experts" and anti-tobacco special interest groups speak on our behalf. Neither do any of the tobacco companies.
Once again, in the proposed funding for SCHIP, smokers have apparently become non-persons, relegated to the status of a passing technicality in a section titled "Funding." We feel the need to remind the government that we are not Funders, but rather human beings, frustrated and infuriated to be the never-ending targets of use and abuse, and whose voices are never heard.
When our President-Elect promised that he wouldn't raise taxes on "anybody" but then "looks forward" to signing this bill, it seems to make it official that smokers aren't "anybody." Not citizens; not persons. Here's a guy who "cut myself a little slack" for smoking because running for president was stressful who then cuts other indulgers none during the worst, most stressful economic downturn in four generations.
This is close to Taxation without Representation, for what use is a vote when we're never "represented"? It would be hard to count as far as the fingers of one hand the number of legislators-- at any level of government-- local, state or federal -- who've been heard to object to the selective, persecutory taxation of smokers on the grounds of unequal treatment. Most, if anything, seem to represent whoever it is that benefits from the smokers' coerced beneficence. We are no one's constituents. Even those protesting that this is a tax against the poor are representing "the poor," and notably not that second-class category, the smokers.
Elected officials are either intent on persecuting us or victimizing us, depending on subscribed beliefs on smoking. For the smokers that dare to defy demands to conform (don't smoke) lawmakers will impose it on them coercively (smoking bans and high taxes). On the other hand, Public Health insists, and lawmakers believe, that nicotine is "more addictive then cocaine and heroin" (however contradictory that is to their other assertion that merely charging more will cause one to quit). In that case, government is guilty of preying on the "weak" as a source guaranteed to keep paying.
The Heartland Institute (2), The Heritage Foundation (3), Americans for Tax Reform (4), and even C.L.A.S.H. in the past (5), among others, have publicly issued extensive material that documents the flaws in terms of economics and rationale. The incongruities in both have been well established, yet stunningly unheeded, let alone intelligently refuted. There is a breakdown in reason by our elected officials that is beyond anything intellectual. That's because there's a more malevolent force at work that's long been shunned in regard to other minorities: bigotry. The kind that doesn't let us in the front or any other door.
While C.L.A.S.H.'s intent is to emphasize adult smokers' disenfranchisement from the process and not to belabor the economic details it deserves at least some further attention. Supporters of funding SCHIP with tobacco taxes stand on two main points in that regard:
1. It will have the added benefit of reducing smoking by adults and discouraging initiation among "children."
2. When smoking is reduced the revenue for SCHIP will decrease but will be offset by the decrease in healthcare costs due to smoking.
C.L.A.S.H. founder, Audrey Silk, asks, "What offset? Believing, for the sake of this argument, that government keeps their accounts separate, how does reducing the need to withdraw funds from one account reduce the need for money in another?
"Children do not suffer from the alleged 'smoking-related' illnesses. Hypothetically, my quitting does nothing to stop or decrease any of the insurance (and medical) needs of the children enrolled in SCHIP. Nothing about the health of children -- the ones this money is earmarked for -- changes. The determined level of funding needed does not decrease with the reduction in healthcare costs for adults. Nor does reducing the number of 'children' that would take up smoking -- those who would not potentially experience any of the alleged related health problems for the next 30 to 40 years -- offset the funding needed to maintain SCHIP in the desired expanded state."
Dispute over the true effectiveness aside, the American Cancer Society "estimates that the proposed tax increase would discourage nearly 1.9 million children from taking up smoking." (6) Exactly! In the strictest of bank account-balancing terms (we do not endorse the idea that minors should smoke), without additional future smokers who's going to fund the children coming in behind them? Indeed, as the Heritage Foundation has pointed out (3), the nation would need 22 million of the current children to become eventual smokers in order to sustain the children arriving behind them. The message from Congress? "Smoke for The Children."
Pardon the pun but, finally, it would be criminal to overlook the section of the bill (7) that closely follows the detailed dollar amounts of the tax increases on tobacco, entitled "Treasury Study Concerning Magnitude of Tobacco Smuggling in the United States." It's Congress' admission that they are about to be the ones responsible for inciting this newly more lucrative market. They anticipate it in black and white. Congressman Peter King (R-NY), a ranking member of The Committee on Homeland Security, has been most vocal about evasion of cigarette taxes to date leading to "a surge in smuggling and a consistent cash flow for global terrorist groups." (8)
It seems that's not enough to put a chill on the plan. Congress, it would seem, has more animus towards adults who choose to smoke than it has towards terrorists.
National: Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.)
National: Smokers Club, Inc.
Massachusetts: Cambridge Citizens for Smokers' Rights
Minnesota: Ban the Ban Minnesota
Missouri: Keep St. Louis Free
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Smokers Action Network (PASAN)
Virginia: Virginia Smokers Alliance
Wisconsin: Ban the Ban Wisconsin
(7) http://www.stogieguys.com/wp-content/uploads/SCHIP-Taxes.pdf, pdf pg. 15 / Bill pg. 285