Are Cigarette Taxes About Health, Or Just An Excuse For More Taxes?

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With the World Health Organization (WHO) calling Tuesday for increased tobacco taxes to discourage use, one tax expert is arguing the push has nothing to do with health and all to do with revenue.

“Politicians say they want to raise tobacco taxes to stop smoking but as we learned in the United States, state politicians that said the same thing now want to tax vaping because they are not interested in health,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They are interest in tax revenue.”

In its report, “WHO Report on the global tobacco epidemic 2015,” the international health agency argued not enough governments levy appropriate levels of taxes on tobacco products. Thus, the report claims, many countries are missing a low cost way to curtail its use.

“An international UN or WHO that is taxing tobacco products is in fact a co-owner , co-beneficiary and silent partner with the tobacco industry,” Norquist continued. “The one way to make sure you don’t reduce their use is to make the government profit from their success.”

“That is what these WHO/UN advocates are calling for so you can raise more money,” he concluded. “So they’re fools and their reasoning and incentives are the opposite of what they’re saying.”

Additionally, some experts have found that excessively high taxes may also may promote crime. It has been well studied that when sought after products are taxes to excessive rates, people will turn to cheaper black market alternatives. Studies from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the libertarian Cato Institute shows this is especially true with cigarettes.

Additionally, once a product moves to the black market it becomes nearly impossible to regulate. In 2014 the death of Eric Garner made national headlines and sparked a debate on police using excessive force and institutional racism. Garner was allegedly choked to death by an officer of the New York Police Department for selling untaxed cigarettes illegally.

This is not the first time ATR has warned against WHO trying to raise tobacco taxes. In a coalition letter from 2014, the group and several other low tax and free market originations denounced earlier calls from the agency to raise tobacco taxes. The letter argued that such increases tend to be the result of backdoor deals to undermine national sovereignty and eliminate international tax competition. This, the letter argues, would allow countries to raise taxes without making them less competitive to other countries.

Still though, the WHO report argues there is plenty of real world examples to support its claim. It also argues a 75 percent tax on the cost of tobacco products would be a good place to start.

“Evidence from countries such as China and France shows that higher tobacco product prices linked to increased taxes lead to declines in smoking prevalence and tobacco-related harm, such as lung cancer deaths,” Dr. Douglas Bettcher, a director at the agency, said in a statement.

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