Tobacco Taxes Are the Easy Way Out

Published August 9, 2009

Kingsley Guy’s July 26 column, “Florida’s tobacco tax: Be very careful what you wish for,” did a great job explaining tobacco tax issues that are too often ignored by the media.

One problem to also mention is that tobacco taxes are not a sustainable source of revenue, due in large part to the general decline in smoking and the increase in tax-free smuggling. Politicians often use tobacco taxes as a revenue crutch, in order to divert attention away from their own lack of fiscal discipline and inefficient governing, but ultimately those revenues won’t be enough to fund their big-spending ways.

When legislators choose the politically “easy” route of raising taxes on a narrow segment of the population (like smokers), the burden immediately falls on the backs of retail businesses. Shortly after, the tax revenues fall short of projections, and all taxpayers end up with a heavier tax burden.

Anti-smoking interest groups and big-spending politicians try to convince us that tobacco taxes are harmless to the economy. That’s simply not true. Without sensible spending controls, no amount of tax revenue will ever be enough for some legislators.

John Nothdurft, budget and tax legislative specialist, The Heartland Institute, Chicago

This letter to the editor was originally published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.