Turning Up the Heat on Smokers
Laws should be enforced (or stricken or modified if they will not be), but there’s something unseemly — extortionate — about this:
The state in April increased the excise tax on cigarettes by $1, to $3.46 a pack, the highest in the country. The move has obvious health benefits, but it also aims to generate millions more dollars for the financially strapped state.
Now, state taxation and law-enforcement officials are poised to do their part. They are cracking down on the illegal sale of out-of-state cigarettes to make sure that the state collects as much money as possible from smokers who now plunk down some $8.35 for a pack. …
Under state law, Rhode Island residents can have up to a carton of out-of-state cigarettes in their possession. Anything more and they are subject to arrest.
Violators face up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
For reasons unrelated to money, I quit smoking about a decade ago, and it’s increasingly difficult to comprehend what drives people to continue with the practice, but reading today’s article, I found myself surprised to recall that it’s about a legal product. The state government is facing tough financial times, so it has arbitrarily decided to collect more money from a population of residents who have a chemical and psychological dependency on a particular item.
Here’s a clue that something isn’t right with the current government attitude: Resident smokers’ doing the right thing by their health would do more harm to the state revenue than does the illicit behavior on which the state police are so focused. If only for that reason alone, Rhode Island’s smokers should kick the habit.
Do what they will, however, I’ll still predict that revenue from this tax is going to go down, even if the number of smokers stays exactly the same. Unfortunately, Rhode Island businesses are likely to take a hit, as well, and not only on sales of cigarettes, but also on sales of such goods as smokers will pick up when they’re out of state shopping.