By Donny York
Since Congress, in 1997, made the increased taxation of cigarettes the source for its funding, what actually keeps the nation’s State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) funded is the persistence of people’s smoking.
It’s that stark.
Still, approaching California’s June 5 ballot initiative, advocates of the Proposition 29 hike in cigarette taxation are saying a principle benefit of its passage will be a healthy reduction in people’s tobacco habits.
In 2009 President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) as the new, improved version of the original 1997 law, enshrining retail tobacco taxation as the financing mechanism. So, statutorily, it’s all set up that enough citizens have to risk their health smoking tobacco for other citizens to benefit their health using the program.
So, won’t you help? Won’t you buy cigarettes? Or are the sacrifices of regrettably tobacco-addicted souls in your community for children’s health care – even comfortably middle-class children’s healthcare – something you’re actually comfortable with? Given nicotine’s scientifically verified benefit to certain individuals’ successful daily functioning, the most charitable act you might be able to contribute to many of the less fortunate would be gifting cigarettes to them.
Clearly, there is a present and growing need for such charity. So, I contribute this song, ready for use in some feel-good public service announcement! If the idea is for the community to provide – through its government – decent health care for all, well …
If you’re not buying cigarettes, then what kind of citizen are you?
According to the “about us” page at www.InsureKidsNow.gov, the CHIPRA “signed by President Obama allows states to have more opportunities to improve access to these programs.” But look, the numbers are showing tobacco usage trending generally downward for years now. And if tobacco cessation programs (often state sponsored!) do succeed, then CHIPRA will fail. It is run by the individual states and, unlike the federal government, they have no mechanism for just printing money!
I remember first moving to L.A. – as a young adult, doing the ShaNaNa TV series, in the late 1970s – feeling an elevated sense of having arrived into modernity and grace partly because Jerry Brown was California’s governor. Frequently admired in Rolling Stone, the rock intelligentsia’s “Bible” back then, Jerry Brown, son of Gov. Pat Brown, was a former Jesuit seminarian who decided against becoming a priest. He dabbled in Buddhism, and you just knew the Age of Aquarius was coming along nicely with his helmsmanship as the simply inevitable governor of the Golden State. He was a new breed for the new age.
By now, of course, Californians are just doing ordinary recycled history. Prosperity to statism to upheaval – nothing at all new to human affairs. Recycling Jerry Brown was their perfect follow-up to rejecting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s effort to throttle back big labor’s power in California politics.
The Jerry Browns of the political world always seem to revert to type. Instead of enabling us to be our brother’s keepers individually, they deny us that sovereign mission and take it unto government as if they were clergy and we mere laymen. They start out intent on making a more equitable share of the pie available to every citizen, and end up hindering the growth of the pie and the abundance of opportunities available to any citizen.
In the Ponzi-scheming governance of modern industrial democracies, one-size-fits-all services make government dependents of us all. The Jerry Browns of the world will find ever more creative ways to access our wealth rather than suppose us capable of being creative, industrious, or charitable without their redistributing our wealth as they find appropriate.
You may say we were dreamers (John Lennon definitely was “not the only one”) and, if the increasingly socialized world “will be as one,” we’re now stuck with funding it. Taxation of cigarettes, like other “sin taxes,” is an easy way around the citizenry – as one – feeling the pinch of bigger government.
Typically, cigarette taxation funds feel-good specific purposes, including California’s “early childhood education” from the 50-cent-per-pack tax increase of 1998, and Illinois’ “Medicaid funding” from the $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase just enacted Tuesday. A share of tobacco tax revenues has gone specifically toward surveillance technology in Alabama, sewer improvements in South Carolina and museum expansion in Alaska. Most common among the programs cigarette taxation provides for are those aimed at drug rehab and smoking cessation. Not rarely, earmarked funds end up going to states’ general funding, which raises a question: Where will the lost revenue come from if the smoking-cessation programs succeed?
Politicians in power seem to have figured out that taxing old smokers to pay for young health-care receivers is a winning formula. Those actuarial tables need a proper skew in order to delay Social Security’s expected bankruptcy and reduce medical expenditures generally.
If you’re not smoking cigarettes, you’re just less useful as a citizen, especially if you’re an older citizen. If you’re not a smoker, well … doesn’t dramatically higher tobacco taxation make buying cigarettes, and giving them to the poor souls who depend on them in the streets of your community, a charitable act of responsible citizenship?
A co-founder and lifelong member of ShaNaNa, Donny York took his political science degree in 1971 from Columbia University, under the same faculty that graduated Eric Holder in 1973 and Barack Obama in 1983. Inquirers may access his detailed student transcript from the Office of the Registrar.