FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - October 10, 2007
Contact Audrey Silk, NYC C.L.A.S.H., (917) 888-9317
Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) can't have it both ways. Taxes on cigarettes -- at the rate they've been increasing in so many states over the last five to ten years -- are either, depending on one's personal point of view, regressive or they're not. In other words, it can't be hurtful in one's mind one day but not the next. But according to Congressman Rangel and his record the impossible is possible.
RANGEL VS RANGEL ON TAXING SMOKERS (SCHIP)
On July 27, 2007, Congressman Rangel issued a press release (1) detailing why he was fighting for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) expansion that would be funded by increasing the federal tax on cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. In it, he stated:"I have a history of opposition to excise taxes, but in light of the heavy financial weight smokers place on Medicare expenditures and the overwhelming proof linking the increase in cost of tobacco products with a decrease in youngsters buying cigarettes; itís the right call."Except historically, that opposition included vocal non-support for putting the tax bite on smokers.
In response to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to increase the city's cigarette tax by $1.42 in 2002, Congressman Rangel issued this statement (2,3), in part:"Low income people are the ones who will suffer from this," Congressman Rangel said. "They are the ones who willl really feel the burden of a $1.50 tax."Audrey Silk, founder of NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.), asks, "Which is it Congressman? Does such a tax deter the behavior or not? Does it really make smokers quit, thereby allegedly saving on healthcare costs, or does smoking prevalence remain the same because it makes them turn to the black market instead?"
The Congressman, who has long opposed excise taxes on similar grounds, also questioned the argument that the so-called "sin tax" will change behavior.
"If the motivation is to provide a kind of treatment for smokers by punishing them economically, the attempt is not only unfair, it is likely to fail," Congressman Rangel said. "People stop smoking because they want to; if they want to continue they will find a way to get cigarettes they can afford -- even if it means illegally on the black market, on the internet or traveling to low tax states."
The Congressman said he understood the city's need to raise revenues, but took issue with a method that would disproportionately burden the poor.
"If the Mayor wants to raise revenues, he should find a way that spreads the pain equally. It's just not fair to impose a $1.50 tax on people earning $25,000 or $100,000 a year, and then say you're doing it in order to stop them from smoking.
"If the tobacco tax is too high for NYC residents in Congressman Rangel's opinion, then what to make of adding 61 cents to fund SCHIP on top of that?" Silk wonders. "Apparently the poorer aren't an important part of his equation anymore. Not the ones in his district and not across the nation."
Though established in 2000 with a particular eye on New York, C.L.A.S.H. has grown into a nationally active grassroots organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and protecting the interests of adults who choose to smoke cigarettes. The relegation of the source of funding for State Children's Health Insurance to no more than a mere and passing technicality in the debate has frustrated and infuriated the seemingly never-ending targets of government use and abuse -- adult smokers.
Using New York City as an example, in the last nine years smokers have been subjected to one price hike to cover the settlement between the states and the tobacco industry, two state tax increases, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's own 1775% whopper.
Supporters of funding SCHIP with tobacco taxes stand on three points in that regard:
1. Most fair to tax a "sin" to cover it.
2. It will have the added benefit of reducing smoking by adults and discouraging initiation among "children."
3. When smoking is reduced the revenue for SCHIP will decrease but will be offset by the decrease in healthcare costs due to smoking.
Silk asks, "What offset? Believing, for the sake of this argument, that government keeps their accounts separate, how does a withdrawal reduction 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 intended for -- changes. The settled on funding level 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."
Indeed, as the Heritage Foundation has pointed out (4), the nation would need 22 million of the current children to become eventual smokers in order to sustain the children arriving behind them.
Yawning past more punishment of one legal consumer group -- a group that seems to be the only one that has to fund everything for the benefit of everyone while incongruently being beaten to submit (quit)-- is where the shame lies; not with President Bush for vetoing legislation that, in one regard, amounts to this message: Buy cigarettes. It's for the children.
Or in Congressman Rangel's case: Pay the higher tax and, this time, to hell with the low-income class.
(1) July 27, 2007. News Release. "Rangel Fights to Improve Health Care For Children and Seniors." http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/ny15_rangel/LocalCHAMP072707.html
(2) July 3, 2002. News Release. "Cong. Rangel Says Cigarette Tax Unfairly Burdens the Poor."
(3) July 31, 2002. Opinion Journal from the Wall Street Journal. "Supply-Side Smokers."
"Mr. Rangel blasted the hike as 'totally unfair to tax poor folks'."
(4) July 11, 2007. Heritage Foundation. "22 Million New Smokers Needed: Funding SCHIP Expansion with Tobacco Tax."