Health Care, Mike Krause, Taxes

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, it's for the children

In 2004, Coloradans overwhelmingly passed Amendment 35, a tobacco tax that helps expand state-funded health care for the working poor, the uninsured and children.

Amendment 35 also funds professional busybodies who use tax dollars to try and get people to quit smoking.

The busybodies must be doing something right, because smoking is on the decline in Colorado. This is bad news for uninsured children. Fewer smokers means fewer tax dollars for state-funded health care.

icon_op_edThe obvious answer is that Colorado needs more smokers.

In its first year, Amendment 35 brought in more than $169 million. Since then, both adult smoking levels and the tobacco tax revenues generated by smoking have been dropping.

An article in the Rocky Mountain News on Dec. 3 reported that “budget forecasts show continued declines that could leave program recipients with $135.5 million in fiscal year 2011-12 — a 20 percent drop before inflation is factored in.”

At the same time, the Rocky piece continues, Colorado has “increased the number of free breast and cervical cancer screenings it offers” and added an “unknown number of children and expectant mothers” to state insurance rolls.

The fact is, Amendment 35 is a nifty piece of political theatrics that allowed a smug (and apparently none too bright) majority (non-smokers) to force an unpopular minority (smokers) pay not only for expanding state-funded health care, but also to pay for programs to help stop the same unpopular behavior that generates the money to expand health care in the first place.

And what we ended up with is a completely backward piece of public policy; an increase in state health care spending based on a declining stream of tax revenue.

Without a steady flow of new smokers, Amendment 35 is ultimately self-defeating.

Professional busybodies can always move on to other nanny-state targets such as white sugar, red meat and black-label scotch, but what about the children?

So thanks to the fuzzy logic, inherent contradictions and cruel irony of Amendment 35, cigarette smoking is now a civic virtue; and the tax-funded busy-bodies who want people to quit smoking are denying health care to poor children.

If you already smoke, good job and carry on. You are performing a valuable civic duty and deserve a gold-plated Zippo lighter embossed with the Colorado state seal.

This, of course, should come out of the busybodies’ share of the tobacco tax. It’s the least they can do.

If you are an ex-smoker, don’t worry — in a few short weeks you should be comfortably back in the saddle, just like the Marlboro Man.

File photo: Todd Shepherd
File photo: Todd Shepherd

The best part is you can do it guilt-free, as a majority of Colorado voters have given you the go ahead.

If you have never smoked, what the heck are you waiting for? Get started now and it shouldn’t be long before you are up to a pack a day and doing your part for health care in Colorado.

And if any busybodies want to give you a hard time about lighting up, just remind them you are doing it for the children — and it was their idea in the first place.

Mike Krause is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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