The Tobacco Wars, Continued

On May 31st, the World Health Organization marks World No Tobacco Day. This year’s theme: tobacco industry interference. For evidence of that interference, we need look no further than our own backyard.

On June 5th, the California Cancer Research Act – Proposition 29 – will be voted up or down by Californians after being pilloried by the tobacco industry in a multi-million dollar statewide campaign. Prop 29 would channel hundreds of millions of dollars every year into cancer research within California. It would inject new investment and high quality jobs into California’s struggling economy. And it could very possibly lead to new cures and treatments for people fighting cancer, the world’s leading cause of death.

But a campaign funded by tobacco companies is spending millions on ads to mislead Californians about this life-saving initiative. Why? Prop 29 will add $1 to the cost of every pack of cigarettes sold in California, a state that currently ranks 33rd in the nation on the tobacco tax scale. So great is the power of the lobbyists and so deep are the campaign coffers that every bill or ballot initiative seeking to raise the cost of tobacco has been defeated since the last successful hike in 1988. Even though only 12 percent of Californians smoke.

I’m not a Californian myself though I consider myself a big admirer of the Golden State. I support Prop 29 as a cancer survivor, an advocate, a father and a former member of the President’s Cancer Panel. During my six years on the Panel, I heard thousands of doctors, nurses, policy makers and survivors loud and clear: the single most effective thing we can do to prevent cancer is reduce tobacco use.

I also support Prop 29 because I resent the tobacco industry’s ability to influence public policy in their favor – to the detriment of Californians and their state economy – over and over again.

The U.S. cancer community, including our partners at the American Cancer Society, is united in its support for this life-saving measure. And we believe that California voters will see through the tobacco industry interference being doled out in 30-second increments on their televisions day and night between now and June 5th.

Lance Armstrong is a cancer survivor, seven-time Tour de France champion and a proud father of five. The Lance Armstrong Foundation provides free, bilingual service to cancer survivors struggling with the financial, emotional and practical effects of the disease. The Foundation advocates for public policies that benefit survivors, fund cancer research and increase access to care.


    1. Philip Morris says it’s bad to raise taxes on cigarettes and not lock that money down for stop-smoking campaigns.

      Yeah, like PM is cool with it on the other counts.

  1. That has to be the coolest 3-4 yr old I have ever seen.

    I like the idea of using cigarette taxes for cancer research, but making it more expensive will only hurt the poor/addicted. What are the current taxes used for? Taxes are already pretty crazy high on them.

      1. I’ve heard that… but I wonder how much of a deterrent it REALLY is. No one starts with a pack a day. The initial cost to start up isn’t a lot.

      2.  It would be nice if this were true. Instead, it promotes hoarding, importing, and other things that can make things worse.

          1. The obvious answer to your question is “of course it does: why else would the tobacco industry dump $20M in an effort to kill it?” 

            A federal court ordered a release of the tobacco industry’s internal memos having been found guilty of racketeering. In them, you’ll find that the tobacco companies agree that taxation reduces consumption. 

            Here are some highlights:

          2. There’s actually a solid body of evidence that tobacco excise taxes are quite effective at reducing tobacco consumption, both in number of people smoking and in amounts that smokers smoke. You could start here (this document’s references list):

            Or for the layman, here:
            Download the PDF and see Chapter 29, as well as the Sources section at the back.

            If you’re really interested, see if your local university/medical library has this book, which is from the WHO’s IARC, pretty much the gold standard in the cancer causes & prevention field:
            This addresses concerns about smuggling, cross-border shopping, etc.

            TL;DR: yes it does, more so than advertising bans, package warnings, etc.

            Whether a government *should* enact laws of this type –public health vs. individual liberties– is a valid argument, as is what should be done with the tax revenues, but the scientific basis is there: if you want to reduce lung cancer, then make cigarettes more expensive (or outlaw them entirely, but that’s an even more serious argument).

          3. Australia has drastically reduced smoking rates across the nation over the last 20-30 years. 

            Tax hikes on cigarettes have played a large part in that. They’ve also helped pay part of the massive medical bill that smokers add to our health system, but I suppose in the US that doesn’t matter as you don’t have a single payer system.

        1. How will more expensive packets make hoarding more desirable? I mean sure, just before the tax jump people might hoard, but those supplies won’t last long and then people will have to buy at the new price. As far as importing goes, I’m not sure how it works state to state in the US, but there are certainly restrictions about how many packets you can carry across international borders into the country.

          Finally, California isn’t the first place to try to add higher taxes to cigarettes. It’s done all over the world. It also reduces smoking rates. That’s why the Tobacco Industry is fighting it.

      3. The problem I have with using a tax as a deterrent is that people begin to interpret all forms of taxation as a punishment.  This creates resentment among the taxpayers and allows politicians to convince the wealthy that the progressive tax structure is some form of “class warfare” and not simply an attempt to collect revenue.  Ideally a tax should be seen as an investment in infrastructure, not a punishment.

    1. California’s tobacco tax is actually pretty low at $0.87 a pack – – 33rd nationwide. 

      Meanwhile, the state’s smoking healthcare costs are $15.10 per-pack sold. The tobacco industry is laughing at us.They specifically target low income communities with their ads; they consider them the easiest people to recruit. At some point, we’re going to have to break the cycle. Prop 29 is a good start.

      1. THANK YOU.

        The tax revenue from tobacco is far less than the cost imposition of smoking on the healthcare system. Claims to the opposite effect are merely a red herring, designed to fool the foolish. This is the case everywhere in the world. In Australia the total tax applied to a pack of cigarettes makes up 62.5% of the price – and even that is a massive shortfall compared to the heath costs. A pack costs ~$17 here and extensive research shows that a prohibitive cost does have an impact on smoking rates.

        The point that a tax increase disproportionately targets people on low incomes is yet another bit of tobacco industry chaff. If a person cannot afford a couple bucks on a pack of cigarettes then how the hell do you think they’ll manage the health costs of smoking related illness they will eventually get? The prohibitive cost will have a greater effect on those who have the least capacity to fund their health problems which is entirely the point. The other thing is that it is markedly cheaper to roll-your-own cigarettes.. yeah it might be a bit annoying but it brings the unit cost of a cigarette to far below the price you’d pay if you buy them in packs.

        In Australia we are about to enact legislation that all cigarettes must have plain packaging (no logos/brand colours). Tobacco companies are really cranky and are taking the issue to the High Court – a case they are (thankfully) likely to lose. Tobacco companies are evil, manipulative bastards who peddle death while muddying the water as to the real heath problems caused by smoking. Every person has a responsibility to vote for tax increases on tobacco and swerve if you see tobacco execs walking in Washington DC.$file/2.jpg

        1.  Exactly! We should tax tobacco so much the the poor and addicted will be seriously hurt. That way they can quit smoking and make everyone else happy. Also there is this burden on the healthcare system that smokers impose. After all, every illness a smoker has is related to smoking. Who cares if they have insurance and the injection of healthcare money into the system benefits others? Make smokers pay! They are clearly second class citizens and do not deserves the legal protection that other groups enjoy.

          Next I want to tax fast food! Those fat people are a HUGE drain on the healthcare system.

    2. I am a New York smoker, so this law wouldn’t effect me, but I wouldn’t mind $12 packs if this kind of law were passed.

    3.  In the UK tobacco taxes (at least some of them) go to the NHS (although it’s all from the same bucket of cash any way).  In fact it;s the easiest argument when people suggest not treating smokers, that they actually MORE than pay for themselves through taxation.

      Also, many councils use tobacco investment to fund state pensions; due to the solid return the shares provide.

      So if overnight everyone stopped smoking in the UK the NHS would be underfunded and our pensions would be crippled.

      The relationships between smokers and the government in the UK is an odd one.

  2. Yeah, I also want to see cigarettes fade away and more money go for cancer research, but punishing people like my brother who already lives hand-to-mouth on unemployment while fighting depression and nicotine addiction is not the way to go about it. 

    I will be voting no on this.  While I think smoking is a disgusting habit, and I think it’s depressing that cigarettes are legal, I don’t think placing an even greater fiscal burden on tobacco consumers is the way to go.

    1. If your brother lives hand-to-mouth, who will pay for his health care when he gets sick from his habit? Are you willing to pay his enormous bills, or are you expecting our tax dollars to support him? Just wondering.

      1. Since he’s on my parent’s health insurance, i actually expect their health insurance policy to pay for it.  Just like I expect the policy they pay for to pay for the care he is getting now for his depression.

        If he couldn’t be covered? Then yes, I would help pay for them if he could not pay for them himself.

      2. Smokers generally die earlier and taken over a lifetime, consume less health and retirement resources.

          1. gunker: Thanks for your time but anyone can use Google to cherry pick ‘evidence’ to support their argument.

            There are several reasons why the study to which you linked isn’t really applicable.

            Firstly: It is done with data from the Netherlands, where smoking rates are less than in America (888 cigs per years vs 1196 in the US)

            Secondly: The “smokers group” was controlled so it conatined only “lifetime smokers with a healthy weight”. Therefore that study presumes that the smoking group will not put a burden on the healthcare system for treating obesity.. which is bullshit. Smokers can be fat too.

            Thirdly: The entire study is based on computer modelling. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with computer models, they only work best when you can compare the model to real world examples of what you’re trying to measure. Considering this is probably the first study of such a nature my guess is that the results can not be trusted as fact. This is not a historical study based on real measurements of real people – it’s a prediction.

            PS: Not sure how the link isn’t working. Are you sure you’re not making excuses? It definitely works fine. In any case I have attached a screencap of the table to which I linked.

          2. So, when you link to a peer-reviewed journal, it’s evidence, but when gunker does, it’s cherry-picking? Please.

          3. Are you (or am I) reading that chart right? Seems to say that smokers do have lower healthcare costs…9.473 billion for smokers vs. 11.138 billion nonsmokers.

            I am assuming you are showing us a chart indicating lifetime costs for a same-size population- the notes at the bottom werent entirely clear.

    2. Totally agree here. Smoking cigarettes is disgusting, but why are we punishing the consumer again? Why aren’t we taxing the tabacco company for the research, or the corporations selling the cigarettes? Who does it help by making an addict pay more for their fix?

      Nobody except the tobacco company who still reaps their massive profit. We need to take this fight to the source, not the end of the stream.

      This is the sort of logic that has had us embroiled in a “War on Drugs” for almost 100 years now (Harrison Narcotics Tax Act)…and drug use is the highest that it’s ever been. Why don’t we spend the time raising product standards, imposing restriction on certain aspects of production, or requiring the funding of truthful education (as opposed to the typical, hyperbolic scare-tactic education we have now)?

      1. I was under the impression that taxing the company manufacturing or selling goods is the same as taxing the consumer as the consumer (as the end of the chain) ends up paying the tax by way of higher prices charged.

        1. There are different ways to tax products and consumers. What is being proposed is specifically adding $1 to each pack sold…which means that the only people hurting are retailers and consumers.What I was talking about is taxing the profit margins of a company, much more than $1 per pack.

          If the price hike is then passed down to the consumer from the company, it really only looks too bad for the company – rather than what people are seeing now…the state taking that dollar directly from them.

          1. You are clearly ignorant to the effectiveness of PR. If we did what you suggest then the tobacco company would simply frame the price increase in the same manner as taxing the end user: We pay higher tax, so of course we have to pass it on. The end user’s anger would still be directed at the gubmint. As the article makes clear, tobacco companies have basically unlimited advertising and PR resources.

            “why are we punishing the consumer again?”
            Because in the case of cigarettes the consumer’s personal choice affects a multitude of people other than themselves? It is entirely appropriate to expect people whose choice is an imposition on society to pay their dues for that imposition. Would you also expect society to pay for, say, an amateur race car driver’s public liability insurance?

            To compare this to the war on drugs is just asinine. The solution to the war on drugs that you so rail against is specifically this: legalise and tax. But in the case of cigarettes you don’t think we should tax? Mega logic fail.

          2. teapot – Of course they would. It’s a lose-lose situation, as I pointed out. Neither solution is good, when it comes to taxation and restriction. But voting for a direct consumer tax doesn’t target the problem, whereas taxing the company at least points the cannon in the right direction.

            > Because in the case of cigarettes the consumer’s personal choice affects a multitude of people other than themselves?

            Is this not the case with everything? We could, and many have, make the same argument for terrible diets and bad lifestyle decisions in general. The race car argument doesn’t really hold water, since there are many risky activities that people regularly engage in that individuals are not held responsible for – especially in the realm of health. Restriction is not the answer.

            There is no one solution to the war on drugs. The solution that has seemed to work is regulate and treat, not necessarily legalise and tax. It’s not a logic fail if I don’t agree with your opinion – that cognitive dissonance is only on your end. I’d highly recommend Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out by Mike Grey. He does an amazing job at outlining the war since the beginning, and past and current global policies to deal with drug use. Very illuminating read.

          3. Sorry for the snark… I was unnecessarily rude in my response to you, but that’s because I see a disturbing percentage of comments here that contain nothing but unsubstantiated opinion.

            It’s funny that you use the phrase “lose-lose” when on the page linked by frogmarch above Bill Gates is quoted as saying “Among the revenue proposals I have examined, tobacco taxes are especially attractive because they encourage smokers to quit and discourage people from starting to smoke, as well as generate significant revenues. It’s a win-win for global health.”

            The main thing I need you to explain is how you think taxing the company differs from taxing the consumer? The result is the same in the end: more expensive cigarettes. I also don’t understand how you think the problem is the fault of the producer when the people who drive demand are the customer, but that point is moot unless you can explain how taxing the company would differ from taxing the consumer.

            I agree that those who eat unhealthily are also adding unfairly to the strain on the health system, but that is just yet another distraction put out there by incensed smokers and the tobacco industry. We are talking about tobacco here.. perhaps we should also be talking about taxing fatty foods but that doesn’t mean we should ignore this topic just because there are other issues worth discussing.

            Re: the war on drugs. My point about logic was that it is widely accepted that taxing alcohol and tobacco is an effective way to control consumption and address the problems caused by their use. There have been a swathe of links in this very thread that support that argument, but no links that support the opposing view. So why is the story any different for drugs other than tobacco and alcohol (drugs that have been deemed less harmful)?

            If you or anyone else here have some sort of evidence that shows taxing smokers is not an effective method of influencing consumption then please provide links to prove your claims. This pic from frogmarch’s links seems to clearly dispute that claim:

            PS: FWIW don’t think I’m arguing this in an us-vs-them mindset – I bought a $17 pack of cigarettes just last week. I am just pragmatic about the dynamics that influence people and their psychology.

    3.  There are nicotine delivery alternatives for your brother that aren’t carcinogenic. It may be tough for your brother to switch, but that’s still preferable to tobacco in the same way that methadone is preferable to black tar heroin.

      1. True, sadly state governments (New York for example) and the FDA are doing all they can to ban such alternatives like the electronic cigarette. It’s good though, not much else for the government to do these days, so it makes sense they’re spending their time proactively banning something with no evidence that it’s harmful (there’s no evidence that it’s NOT harmful though is their argument). 

  3. What you see TSA doing now is just a  logical extension of the witchunt for smokers in the 90’s and 00’s.  Wake up and open your mind. It was never about health or cancer or “security.” It was always about control and how far can you hype the fear in order to amp up the repression.
    I’m not apologetic for the tobacco industry. Far from it. But just consider an alternative scenario: smoking has been proven to be harmful to health, even though tobacco has been used as a medicinal and beneficial psychoacitive substance for millenia before. Instead of using this fact to repress and alienate a substantial minority, the research was done to reduce the harmfulness and to remove the addiction forming and cancerogenous components which were themselves added by the tobacco industry to the original substance…i of course with due repercussions for the guilty parties. That would be a reasonable course of action if public health and personal integrity of citinzenry at large were the prime issue.
    Lol. Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear calls for legalization of marijuana by people prepared to spit on a dude lighting up a cig in a park… What do you think, what will maryjane turn into once the corpworld  makes it legit? (just like they made alcohol, gambling and prostitiution even) Jeez, open your eyes people. I have at least 10 close acquaintances and relatives who died or are dieing of cancer and not one had/has  lung cancer. It’s ridiculous. A smokescreen (forgive my pun).
    Smoking witchunt was just an experiment in control through fear. How far can you demonize a certain lifestyle or lifechoice under the guise of  “security”? Divide and conquer…

    1. The tobacco which was first encountered by European invaders and used by native Americans was a hallucinogen. The colonies were unable to produce anything that was required by Europe for trade except a non-hallucinogenic form of tobacco. The tobacco now produced is a totally useless drug whose only function is to make money for some at the expense of others.

      1. I agree absolutely. It is a pattern. Encounter a psychodelic substance (doesn’t have to be chemical lol, internet in its purest and free-est form van be considered “psychedelic”) spread it around as far as possible and then impose heavy taxation whilst removing all redeeming, liberating qualities from it. This kind of crap’s been repeating for at least 500 years and I’m revolted that humanity keeps falling for this old, old trick.
        Tobacco is a shamanic, psychodelic drug. Originally it was much more so than the currently popular marijuana (it isn’t called called “grass” for nothing – cattle consume grass). However, due to the process described above tobacco became it’s own evil twin. There are worlds of difference between a peace pipe (or a “smoke lodge”) that you experienced maybe a few times in your life, if you were lucky, and the chemical packaged mass produced horror that the cigarettes are. And the same goes for chocolate and coffee btw, the “other” popular drugs in our culture. You don’t know what chocolate is until you’ve tried chocolatl, lol.
        But all this aside, however evil the “cigarette” industry is (and it is) the fact remains that it could have been anything else really. The “cancer” thing is just BS. Off the top of my head I know at least 5 things currently much more likely to give you cancer than nicotine and yet they remain untouched…. And why is that?
        Smoking is visible. It is easy to identify. It was a test. Just to see how far you can whip up people into a state of intolerance and disgust based on health concerns. Fear of the disease, one of the oldest ones. I’m in danger of slipping into poor taste, but the same argument was used for pogroms of jews and other undesirables in the medieval times.  “The unclean” that have to be purged so the society can stay healthy… while the terrible truth is that the core itself is rotten.
        Jeez, it’s not trivial that Hitler (sorry for the “hitler card” but it’s warranted here) was the first to push smoking bans. It is a sign of a failing society looking for scapegoats. Do you see China or Russia banning smoking in public spaces? Or Germany? No, it’s only the falling powers looking for someone to blame who do so. It’s the funny-smelling hook-nose down the street despoiling our youth lol. Look on the map on the world and superimpose smoking regulations and BDP trends and get illuminated. I’m an ex smoker and I’m taking smoking regulations very seriously in my considerations where I’ll choose to live next. But in quite the opposite manner than what you’d expect from your typical ex-smoker, lol.

        1. It never ceases to amaze me what sorts of imaginary links and conspiracies people will dream up in order to escape the facts. The world is big enough to spin stories to match any narrative. All the effort invested in fact-free fantasy would buy a whole lot more clarity if it were directed towards actual, verifiable information.

          Maybe it’s the scientist in me that makes me cranky and intolerant of all this ridiculous BS (Grass and cows, really? What have you got for weed, chronic, MJ, etc?). Smoking gives people cancer. You may not know victims. I do. Neither of our limited personal experiences matters in light of the overwhelming evidence spanning many decades and many millions of people. If it makes me part of the herd to think that smoking is something that happens to be both addictive and bad, and that businesses happen to be willing to make money off it anyway, well then, moo.

          Also, Godwin.

    2. medicinal and beneficial
      You have some interesting ideas on what counts as medicinal and beneficial.

      The internet is a psychedelic? Russia and China are doing nothing to stem the rate of smoking? It’s pretty clear that you’re talking out your ass, bud.

      You can name 5 things that will give cancer? You mean like sitting in a nuclear reactor? How bout you name me 5 things that people do BY CHOICE that increase the cancer rate to the same extent that smoking does?

      During my six years on the Panel, I heard thousands of doctors, nurses, policy makers and survivors loud and clear: the single most effective thing we can do to prevent cancer is reduce tobacco use.
      Those thousands of doctors and nurses must all be deluded, amirite?

      1. @Marko Raos You would seem to have missed my point almost entirely and taken it in a direction which I certainly did not intend. However I do see slavery, tobacco and sugar addiction as interconnected problems whose development was fuelled by caffeine addiction in the city of London and which are not going to be resolved by emancipation, taxation and health warnings or fair trade coffee. The damaging effects of all these are both physical and psychological.

    1. Yes, keeps kids from smoking, compelling argument. Will someone please think of the children!?!

      Well you did also say “saves lives” which I assume is the smokers you’re “helping” to quit by placing an economic gun to their heads. I’m sure they collectively thank you. I’m a liberal but man does it make me cringe when we act like we know what’s best for everyone. At least the Republicans only want to control my genitals (well OK, and bunch of other things too). So depressing to live in a free country.

  4. very strong campaign against says taxes collected will go to out of state companies, no oversight on the money, bla bla bla.  You know what, I don’t care.  As long as $$ makes smoking less attractive, ok by me.

  5. I cannot, in good conscience, support this mindset.

    I understand that tobacco smoking is bad for individuals, but after a point, we have to allow individuals to make their own decision.

    As stated above, it is a bit jarring to move from heavy marijuana legalization posts to more efforts to stomp out individual choices for smoking. Not to mention the discussion of more powerful drugs at that.

    Some of these have side effects and have hurt people, too.

    While I must respect Mr. Armstrong’s personal commitment to the case, I don’t think it stands as an example of good government and it certainly doesn’t support individual liberty.

    1. we have to allow individuals to make their own decision.

      As soon as smokers sign a pledge stating that they will never use taxpayer’s money to pay for smoking-related health problems I’ll agree with you. You don’t seem to understand that smokers COST the healthcare system more than they pay in tax. It’s not only bad for individuals it’s bad for society.

      No one is saying “smokers can’t smoke” – people are just saying “smokers can smoke if they pay the true cost of their choice”. Bringing up other drugs has nothing to do with it and in any case it has been shown that ecstasy, cannabis and LSD are less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Not to mention that Portugal’s decriminalisation of all drugs in 2000 has led to a decrease in illicit drug use there which is even more ammo for the argument to decriminalise certain drugs.

      The chart below comes from page 176 of this UK government document:

      1. Has the CA government promised that the taxes raised will be channelled 100 % to cancer research (reduction/treatment) or will they fall into the general state income pile to be pissed away on whatever vanity projects the state commissions ?

        That being said, and at the risk of invoking the slippery slope argument, what to stop the government from looking for less deadly pasttimes than smoking to start taxing them ?

        1. You again. The state already pays more to care for smoking related illness than it raises through tax. It doesn’t matter what they promise to spend extra revenue on because they’re already covering the shortfall left between tax raised and expenditure.

          Judging by your fear of government taxation, somehow I get the feeling you’re a Ron Paulian. If the case exists that another luxury activity, such as smoking, is unfairly burdening those who do not partake in it then the government would have a pretty solid case for taxing it. How about you give me a specific example of such an activity? I really doubt you can think of one.

          1. Cracker jacks (apologies, you seem to start every reply to me with either a expletive or thinly veiled ad-hominum so I thought thats the way you like it down-under).

            You keep saying that the state pays more to care for smoking related illness than it raises through tax, even after I pointed you to an article which showed otherwise (and you keep ignoring other costs with people living longer).

            If, as you sadi in a previous post, that x (where x is some large number > 90 %) of doctors and nurses agree that cutting smoking would be the biggest factor in reducing cancer, then let the government grow a pair and ban it totally.

      2.  For what it’s worth, in the UK smokers pay far more in terms of taxes than they cost the NHS, though it does get arguable if you start counting what they lose society by dying earlier… though at that point they’re usually a drain on society (old, not paying taxes) rather than a benefit.

        So it’s not always quite so clear cut.  Alcohol on the other hand… that’s very much a loss to the country when you take taxes and jobs vs healthcare costs, crime, cleaning up cities etc.

        1. “though it does get arguable if you start counting what they lose society by dying earlier..”

          Actually judging from the tone of this debate thus far I think that makes the argument more compelling. Dying earlier costs the system less, especially if they die in their late 60’s (which is typical for moderate to heavy smokers) right before they’re about to start becoming the biggest healthcare consumers.

      3. Yes, and while we’re at it, I don’t want to pay for these wars anymore. I don’t drive, why should I have to pay for wars over oil? Whenever someone buys an SUV they should have to sign a pledge to that effect. Also I don’t want to pay for anyone made paraplegic because they were in a motorcycle accident.

  6. Cue the clueless whiners about the dreaded “Nanny State.”

    And btw, who knew Lance Armstrong could write so well!

    1. Not really contributing much to a debate by labelling all differing opinions to your exalted one as “clueless whiners”

  7. I have a parent who died from smoking. She was only 61. While I get angry at the self infliction I could not ‘make’ her stop other than my refusal to buy her cigarettes. That’s all the power I have, or anyone has in changing another person.

    While I would LOVE to see tobacco products go away, I know they wont. People have been smoking for centuries, so a contemporary ban isn’t going to do much but weigh down people’s bad choice. A choice they will make anyway.

    If  you do this then tax fattening and sugary foods as well. Thats about choice too, right.?And according to more recent studies, much more harmful than smoking.

      1. There should be one, or a tax on foods that use HFCS, or rather, ‘corn sugar’. Don’t get me started on that…

        1. Well you’ve gotten me started! As I’m sure you probably know right now we actually do the opposite. We subsidize the hell out of corn and put huge tariffs on sugar so there’s a huge incentive to put HFCS in everything. And not just as a substitute for sugar, it’s so cheap it really pays to try to add it to everything, including feed for cows which messes them up and leads to overuse of antibiotics, which causes other problems. The stuff makes tobacco look like carrots.

  8. Lol. With putting smoking beyond the pale and thus branding all smokers as suicidal psychotics, the State has released itself from all responsibility for monitoring the quality and purity of tobacco products. “If you smoke, you must be scum. So we don’t care if you poison yourself.”
    It is a win-win situation for certain parties here. “We get to put maximum taxes on product X and in return you can put whatever addiction inducing synthetic crap you want in there. We promise we won’t look. And our mutual friends from the “health” industry will have a ball too.” Everybody wins, isn’t it nice?
    Quid licet  “who benefits”? As the romans used to say. Smart people, the romans.

    Btw, Lance, I respect you enormously, and your motivation is true. But the easiest answers are often false and the seemingly clearest routes are rarely the ones that will take you to the true goal. Don’t trust people who live and grow rich on the “truth” they peddle. I admire your will and integrity, don’t let it be hijacked by parasites and jackals.

    1.  Do you think the world’s most celebrated cyclist cares what you think?

      Don’t trust people who live and grow rich on the “truth” they peddle.
      Have you seen the profit figures for tobacco companies? They are the only people growing rich from tobacco.

      I’ll be a very happy man the day that wackaloon conspiracy theorists realise a skeptic is more than a person being skeptical of commonly held beliefs. Skepticism without proof is merely opinion. Opinion is next to worthless. When did these people decide it was cool to side with corporations?

  9. If they truly want to “discourage” smoking, and not just use the addictions of the nicotine-addled as a cash cow to fund their pet projects, they would create a legal ban on tobacco once and for all.

    1. And if they really want to fool us into thinking paid astroturfers like you are anything but tobacco company shills, they really should embed you guys better so that you have a history of more than one comment.

      1.  Isn’t it nice how baseless accusations can be thrown around the internets with no concern for their validity or burden of proof? Look one comment down: rdub has made three comments, but because zie took a pro-29 position, no one’s pronouncing zir an industry astroturfer. If the best you can come up with is an ad hominem attack, your contribution to the discussion is rather less than zero.

      2. I was actively addicted to nicotine for 19 years before I was able to quit. I’m no astroturfer. I think if marijuana, cocaine, and heroin (which actually have some redeeming medicinal uses) are illegal, then tobacco should be made so as well. The only reason it’s not been made so is that the plutocrats in the legislature prefer to take advantage of the smokers’ addiction rather than being bold and banning it. So “pipenta”, get stuffed. I’m no astroturfer. At least I give my real name instead of hiding behind a pseudonym like a coward.

        1. Oh c’mon, tobacco is bad but nothing compared to those drugs. Tobacco doesn’t throw your life into chaos. Marijuana is the least of the 3 but is not innocent. Extended use can cause mental problems like depression and paranoia. Please don’t give me the “deaths from marijuana: zero” line. It’s a lie. Just the act of quitting habitual marijuana use leads to a ton of deaths through suicides, and these are young people not 68 year old smokers.

          1.  Actually due to the classification of marijuana it’s pretty darn difficult to do proper controlled population studies on it.

            The unbiased evidence I’ve seen indicates that people with certain mental predispositions can be attracted to drugs like marijuana.  Cause and effect, and all that.

            The vast majority of negative findings are from biased sources.  And the unbiased ones that dare to say anything positive get shot down.  In the UK we had a chap who’s job was to determine risks involved in drugs and advise on policy.  He made the mistake of pointing out that alcohol was infinitely more damaging to both our health and our society; in fact marijuana ranked so low on the list it was more comparable to caffeine than any of the drugs discussed here.

            He was fired of course.

          2. @NathanHornby:disqus  I agree alcohol is bad. I probably wouldn’t argue it’s less harmful than weed, although I would argue alcohol is less addictive than weed to those without a genetic predisposition for alcoholism. Tobacco is the most addictive but I’d also say it’s way less harmful to someone’s life. Of course getting high on weed once in a while isn’t going to get most people addicted, but those that do end up smoking weed every day will suffer way more than a smoker (although the first couple of years might be a blast).
            At the same time, not everyone who smokes will become a smoker even though it’s more addictive than weed. Also not every smoker smokes heavily. People often assume every smoker smokes at least a pack or 2 a day, which is way overestimating.

  10. Smoking isn’t an individual choice with only individual repercussions. We’re all paying for other people to smoke – both from taxes spent on smoking-caused healthcare, and/or private healthcare plans. 

    California spends $2.9B every year in taxpayer money on smoking-caused healthcare, and the tobacco industry siphons millions in profit from our economy and runs back east laughing.

    Wake up people. We’re getting robbed! Reduce smoking. YES on 29.

    1.  Anything, but actually go after the companies that are profiting from this….

  11. I don’t buy the research that Tobacco is the #1 cause of Cancer deaths because a more powerful lobbying industry doesn’t want you to talk about the bigger one – the food industry. When you look at what Americans are sold on TV, in restaurants, and their own grocery stores it’s no wonder we’re so sick and our immune systems fail so easily. Colon cancer is a huge problem and many other cancers are simply an inability for our bodies to fight off disease (such as second hand smoke). People have been smoking ever since America has been around – the increases in deaths only started rising exponentially when we decided to start eating products that should be described as engineered additives as our primary source of nutrition. The FDA is bought and sold for.

    I really wish Lance would raise more awareness of this issue. Tobacco use is unhealthy, no doubt. But the real Cancer enemy is the slower to kill, largely unreported the attack on our food supply.

    1. Um, no. Not unless you’re also concerned about sprinkler rainbows. Food additives certainly may be a problem, but smoking even causes bladder cancer for Christ’s sake.

      1. The disconnect in Jayme’s rationing is that food, even crappy food, has some benefits. Smoking has none.

        Recent research found that the average American gets enough vitamins and minerals and largely don’t require supplements… That includes the people eating crap. Does tobacco give you any vitamins and minerals?

          1. Interesting but irrelevant. I cannot find any evidence that smoking a cigarette actually transforms the nicotine into niacin. Nicotine can be a precursor to niacin, but unless you’re dipping your cigarettes in nitric acid then chances are you’re not getting any niacin from a cigarette. If you can find information to the contrary please post it.

  12. I’m looking forward to the day when marijuana is legalized and we can start having these same arguments about how high the tax on marijuana should be. Not just because marijuana smoking puts particulates into your lungs the same way cigarette smoking does (or more so), but also because it’s psychoactive and a supposed gateway drug.

    I don’t live in California, but I wouldn’t support this tax even if I did. You want money for cancer research? Go after the cigarette companies, not the end consumers. Look, either decide to make nicotine illegal (which will not end smoking, it’ll just make smokers into criminals) or not, but stop nickel-and-diming smokers.

    An ex-smoker

    1. Thanks for that. j/k

      marijuana smoking puts particulates into your lungs the same way cigarette smoking does (or more so)

      Citation needed. Smoking marijuana doesn’t cause emphysema while smoking tobacco does. A marijuana smoker typically smokes far less plant matter (which is what causes the disease) than a tobacco smoker. Good luck finding a person who smokes an equivalent amount of pot to a pack-a-day smoker. I know some crazy pot smokers and none of them even get close.

      How come you can’t see that affecting the end smoker is the same as affecting the company itself. Any tax would be taking money from the same pool: smokers. This option: raise tax at the point of sale, thereby costing the smoker. Your option: raise tax at a corporate level, thereby costing the smoker. Why do people thinking that taxing the tobacco companies is not taxing the smoker? It makes absolutely no sense.

      As to the myth that marijuana is a gateway drug:

      1. It does make sense if you’d just lay off the bong for a minute and think about it. Tobacco companies oppose the higher taxes on cigarettes as someone stated above. Presumably this is because higher taxes cause a decline in demand for cigarettes. So the tobacco companies probably wouldn’t hike the price up 100% what the tax is or they’d lose customers, although they may be forced to hike prices somewhat to cover the cost of their taxes.

        1. Indeed. This also ignores the fact that blanket taxes at the point of sale impact poor people the hardest. I’m a fairly heavy smoker and I can tell you that if the choice is between nicotine and food, I’m going to go with nicotine every time. I’d rather experience hunger (unpleasant) than serious nicotine cravings (hellish), and I suspect many other nicotine addicts would make the same choice.

          At the same time, I’m also a stubborn bastard, and every time I see an over-the-top health warning or government rhetoric about the evils of smoking, it makes me more determined to smoke. I know smoking is bad for me, and I don’t need photos of blackened lungs or health warnings covering the pack to tell me that.

          If you want to reduce smoking rates, taxation is one way to go about it, but it doesn’t target the core problem, which is addiction. Combine tax increases with making smoking cessation aids free at point of sale, make them available in the same places as cigarettes, get the tobacco companies to cover the expense and use the space currently occupied by the “OMG SMOKING IS GOING TO KILL YOU BUT YOU’RE TOO STUPID TO KNOW THAT!!” health warnings to point out that you have done so, and to give constructive advice on quitting. Stop treating people like naughty children and they will stop behaving as such.

      2. I wasn’t trying to argue that marijuana use is better than, as bad as, or worse than cigarette use. Nor was I trying to argue that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” although I’m quite sure that both arguments will be used to raise taxes on marijuana if and when marijuana is legalised.

        What I was trying to argue is that smokers shouldn’t be made to bear the brunt of paying for larger societal goals, like ending cancer, via higher taxes on cigarettes, just because they’re, you know, evil smokers. Although a disproportionately higher number of smokers may get cancer than members of other groups (citation needed :-), I’m sure Mr. Armstrong himself didn’t get cancer via smoking. If you want to raise money for cancer research, raise taxes on everybody.

  13. What’s this? BoingBoing’s opposed to smoking, now? Oh, tobacco. Not marijuana. Of course. Just consider this, legalize cannabis and you’ll soon have a cannabis industry of similar power as the tobacco industry, lobbying for even more leeway. Keep the parasites away! That goes for the tobacco industry as well, of course, and for the alcohol industry.

    1. This is a guest editorial. Boing Boing isn’t a monolith. Boing Boing is a place where editors and our guests can voice individual opinions. If you don’t dig it, move to the next post.

    2. Tobacco and marijuana is apples and pears.  The only common ground (really) is that they’re both inhaled.

      That said I actually feel the opposite.  I’m far more for personal freedoms in this case.  Smoking is bad for you, it might even kill you; but we’ve been aware of this for decades.  I live in a country where smokers aren’t a financial burden (they more than pay for themselves) – if they want to smoke it’s not up to me, nor the government to tell them otherwise.

      People will continue to smoke – eventually smoking might become so expensive that a proper black market is created.  Is that really a solution to anything?

      Like anything like this.  Make sure the production process is as ‘clean’ as possible, work hard to reduce health risks, educate people and help those that wish to stop.

      Personally if I were going to gun after anything it would be alcohol.  It may not give you cancer but the costs and effects from its use are far more detrimental to everyone (at least in the UK).  Now that smokers can’t even smoke indoors any more they’re only really harming themselves; that’s their choice, they’re plenty informed enough as to the risks and the government already gets MORE than enough tax from the product – any more and the smokers money will be going to criminals, at which point we’ll just have another war on drugs, except this time one that’s actually legal.

  14. As a California smoker who has been doing his best to quit for several years now, I”ll be voting no. This does not punish the tobacco industry for marketing to me as a child, nor will it be any help in my struggle to quit. It’s simply more money for our corrupt state govt to steal out of the pockets of the working class, cause I guarantee of that 12% of Californians who smoke, at least 80% are under the poverty line.

  15. I don’t think prohibition or taxation are right, but I definitely think a culture-war against tobacco is long past needed. Because tobacco smokers are not just harming themselves. I know it happens, and I’d like to see studies of how common it is for children and grandchildren of tobacco smokers to die of cancer, to have birth defects, and to have respiratory disabilities.

    1. Likely not as many children and grandchildren as are damaged through diet; or riding as a passenger in a car, or crossing roads.  The list goes on.

      The culture-war is already in place, the irony is that your comment smacks of it.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing (because you’re right, its the most effective way to stop smoking and has been working for years, especially in the US), but it’s funny that you don’t recognise it.

  16. Sure. Make smokers pay more for their bad habits. That’s fine and good.

    Now let’s talk about alcohol and fatty foods.

    Alcohol costs as much if not more than smoking. As far as I know, there is very little law enforcement involved or required when someone smokes a cigarette.

     I have seen many drunken parties and drunken people devour the time of law enforcement. A cost the community has to pay. Along with the multitude of health hazards and health costs caused by a lifetime of drinking. I’d take second hand smoke anyday of the week over a 2 ton piece of steel barreling into me, piloted by a drunken asshole. More taxes. Tax until it changes the behavior.

    Now lets talk about fatty foods. They also increase the cost of health care by a great magnitude. The low price of garbage food is directly responsible for the effect we see. Let’s roll out the sin tax on anything with HFCS in it. Someone with diabetes can suck up health resources for years.

    All these things are a choice. All of them are bad for you. 35.7% of Americans are obese. This health cost will dwarf the cost of smokers soon, if it has not already.

    Don’t pretend to care about the health of smokers. Don’t pretend this isn’t one group trying to control the behavior of others.

    If everyone cared about everyone else as much as they “cared” about smokers, you’d see 10 dollar bags of chips and 70 dollar bottles of monarch vodka.

    You know who I really feel bad for? Alcoholic, smoking, fatties.

    1.  Alcohol is already pretty heavily taxed–it’s very cheap to make. (It’s also very easy to make, unlike tobacco which requires some fairly specific growing and curing conditions to make smokable product, so overtaxing basically returns us to Prohibition.) I agree with you about empty carbs, but the backlash against HFCS and empty carbs is already well underway. Besides, you’re promoting a false equivalency anyway; even HFCS has some nutritional value, and alcohol isn’t nearly as addictive as nicotine.

      1.  Alcohol is a much bigger social problem than tobacco, and the tax rates you use are a joke compared to the ones we successfully use in Sweden. We’ve managed to keep consumtion much lower than in the rest of Europe, despite traditional heavy use. The alcohol-culture is traditionally slightly different in USA, with more non-users, but you could definitely benifit from at least quadrupled taxes on alcohol.

    2. 1) This is about making people pay for the impact of their choices, not about society caring about the health of smokers. If you wanna fuck yourself up our system enshrines your right to do so.. provided you can pay for the consequences of your actions. This is an issue of economics not health.

      2) Sensible countries do tax alcohol at higher rates. $16 for 1.75L of vodka is a totally retarded price… it costs you about $30 to get a 700ml bottle in Australia. If it was $16 here our hospitals would be constantly full of teenagers getting their stomachs pumped.

      Fatty food has its own deterrent: you look like the Michelin Man and feel like this guy when you eat too much of it.

      1.  If it was $16 here our hospitals would be constantly full of teenagers getting their stomachs pumped.

        Then I would say that it’s your culture (and specifically the bits of it centered around drinking) that need changing; as bad as it can get over here, alcohol poisoning is relatively rare. One of the few unequivocally good things to come out of the War on Some Drugs is that smoking is not only decreasing, but also not considered an unalienable right, despite efforts to repeal its bans in most businesses and public places. Smoking was promoted in popularity by tobacco companies who gave away their product in ration packs during the world wars, to be consumed by young men and women who didn’t know if they’d be alive next week, and came home just as addicted as the soldiers who picked up a heroin habit in Vietnam. (More, really, since nicotine is more addictive than heroin, cocaine, alcohol, or anything else.)

      2. I thought this was an issue of economics. What does looking like the Michelin Man have to do with it? Fat people cost us extra, so according to your own arguments they should be punished. Admit it, if you were a smoker who only ate fruits and vegetables you’d be yelling about how we should tax fatties but lay off smokers because smoking has its own deterrent.

        1.  Why does anyone need to be punished?

          The cost of a product should factor in its cost to society; that makes sense; we’ve leveled that score with regard to tobacco in the UK, it’s an unsavoury product, propaganda and education (both are at play) has made sure of that perception, but that doesn’t stop them putting up the price every five minutes.  It’s easy income for the government; exploitation if you will.

          Alcohol is more complicated; as you start to ‘punish’ the majority due to the actions of the minority; same goes for fatty foods.  I love butter, chocolate and chips, but I’m also sensible enough to eat sensibly (I’m actually under weight at the moment), so I don’t feel I should have to subsidise people that eat too much food.

          In summary smoking is easier to balance with taxes; but that doesn’t mean other personal choices that have impacts on others shouldn’t be treated in the exact same regard, the policy just needs to be more nuanced.

          But again, no one needs to be punished.

          1. Why are you focusing in on that one word (“punished”) so much? You’d think my whole post was about punishing people, but I didn’t advocate punishing anyone even once.

  17. As a former smoker who recently quit after  35 years, I can attest that it is hard as hell to break the habit.

    One thing that struck me when I was doing the gum was how comparatively difficult it is to acquire the gum and consume it, compared with how easy it was to get a pack of smokes and light up.

    The gum/patches are only available at pharmacies (which usually have reduced hours), require a fairly large ($50) investment, and each item is wrapped in a diabolical child proof packet.

    Cigarettes on the other hand, are available at gas stations, and convenience stores 24 hours a day. At just $5 to get started, kids don’t even need to pull out any plastic. The modern cigarette pack is a marvel of packaging efficiency, too: I often had opened the pack, pulled out a cigarette and lit up before I even realized that I was smoking.

    Speaking only from my experience, had it been as difficult to buy and light a cigarette as it is to get the gum, I think I would have quit much sooner, or maybe never started.

    1. The modern cigarette pack is a marvel of packaging efficiency, too: I often had opened the pack, pulled out a cigarette and lit up before I even realized that I was smoking.

      There’s a bit in Infinite Jest where Don Gately reflects on his ability, learned in prison, to take a cigarette out of the pack, light up, and smoke it down not only in the dark but also without really waking up. Also, WRT getting started, I had some kids try to teach me to smoke when I was thirteen and I’m glad that I failed at that particular task. (This was in the mid-seventies, when it was still possible for a teenager to walk into a bar and buy a pack of cigarettes, and I mean from the bartender and not from a machine; some younger people that I’ve told that to refuse to believe that it was true, but it was.)

  18. Funny thing is, you’d expect tobacco companies to actually be heavily invested in cancer research. I mean, imagine what a simple, (cost)effective cure or vaccination for lung cancer could do for their bottom line… 

    1.  You’d still have emphysema, which these days is usually rolled into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Huge amounts of money have been thrown at curing cancer, and if we’re significantly closer to a cure it’s not helping the hundreds of thousands of people who die each year from the various forms. The best defense, like that against AIDS, is limiting or eliminating exposure to the pathogen in the first place.

  19. The only thing I like more than pictures of babies smoking are videos of babies smoking.

  20. Rather than raising taxes why not just eliminated the GOVERNMENT subsidies to tobacco farmers?!!! Stop PAYING American farmers to give Americans cancer.

  21. Outlaw tobacco, plain and simple…. give the population a year notice to quit or switch to electronic cigarettes or some other sort of substitute.  Why tobacco can be legal and Marijuana can’t is totally insane.  I don’t smoke weed but I’d rather smell it than tobacco any day. 

    1. I don’t agree at all we should outlaw anything that doesn’t cause a grave danger to society (things that are simply risky or slowly damaging like cigarettes, fast food, sugar, motorcycle riding, etc. don’t qualify).

      Electronic cigarettes have helped a lot of people quit though. Many states like New York and California have aggressively been trying to ban them for some reason (I guess maybe the lobbyists in that industry didn’t contribute enough to their campaigns). Luckily the New York Senate is terribly inefficient and failed to vote on it in time (it passed the Assembly, unanimously I believe, with no debate), and in California Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill after it passed both bodies. These are the people you want playing lifestyle police and outlawing things they decide are “bad for us?”

  22. Cowards.  If any state had balls they’d list they’d list the “sin” taxes on the receipt at the point of purchase, as they do with sales tax.  If most of you knew what a case of beer actually costs you might think differently about randomly increasing the costs of things you don’t like.  It took me two weeks of research to find the alcohol tax rate in my state, because politicians are cowards.

    This column has the obvious giveaway of “only x% of people smoke, so we should ban it as a majority”.  I believe this was called the “tyranny of the majority” at one point in our history, and has something to do with our lack of a national religion.I have health insurance and I smoke, if I show an insurance card can I be exempt from the taxes?  I’m theoretically not costing you shit.  If you want a debate on health care, that’s a different topic.

  23. Lance, thanks so much for your continued support in the fight against the number one cause of cancer death!

    Which also just happens to be the number one cause of emphysema and COPD.

    And (which most people don’t realize) the number one controllable risk factor for heart disease. Fact.

    It’s time to tell Big Tobacco that it doesn’t effing make health policy in California! Vote YES on Prop. 29. Because anything that Big Tobacco fears that much can’t be all bad.

  24. I really cannot stand the comments on this article. 
    People are arguing here that it’s unfair for non-smokers to pay for the healthcare of smokers, but consider every unhealthy action that could potentially result in medical treatment. If we could calculate the detriment of every possible action, would you be willing to pay for it? If a price could be put on the negative effects of sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours a day drinking soda, would you pay for it? Should every unhealthy behavior be met with a tax that reflects the cost to the healthcare providers? Let’s forget about unhealthy things for a moment and consider UNSAFE things. Should drivers pay an additional tax to reflect the voluntary risk they are taking every time they get into a vehicle? How about wasteful people? Excessive waste is a drain on the planet as well as society’s wallet. How would you feel about being taxed every time you threw away a perfectly good plate of food? Smokers already pay higher rates for health and life insurance, and Prop. 29 will open the door for the government to tax any behavior that can be called “detrimental to society.” What kind of fucking America is this? Not mine. 

    Before you ask: Yes, I’ve been a smoker for 5 years and intend to die with rotted and blackened internal organs. 100% of smokers die. 100% of non-smokers die. Should we punish people because they choose how they want to do it?

  25. Two things of potential interest from the Investigating Power project–

    (1) A video where New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich talks about Philip Morris’ $10 billion lawsuit against the American Broadcasting Companies and him for his reporting on how tobacco companies add nicotine to cigarettes.

    (2) A timeline about the abuse of corporate power from the tobacco industry

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