Wednesday, July 13, 2005


An Interesting Double Standard

On the Star Tribune's website today was a story about the concerns of smuggling that could come with the tobacco "health-impact fee" (tax). It outlines how in recent years the smuggling of cigarettes has become an increasingly lucrative business as several other states have used tobacco taxes to gain revenue. Should Minnesota raise the "fee" 75 cents it would create the largest tobacco tax anywhere in the Midwest and a "land of opportunity for smugglers."

I can see how this would be a legitimate concern. Especially because as the article points out terrorist organizations are beginning to use tobacco smuggling as a source of income. The people that benefit from black markets are almost always criminals. However, though I'm no expert, I have a hard time seeing how tobacco smuggling would become a huge problem simply because of a tax increase. With illegal drugs, the black market prices end up high enough to earn so much profit because it is the only source for the product. However, with cigarettes the black market price would never be able to go higher than the regular commercial price. Most likely it will have to be significantly lower simply because of the danger to consumers of being caught and getting in trouble. I still see this tax as doing more good than harm, especially if it is the only possible solution to our horrible budget impasse.

All in all though, the issues itself raises another interesting question: Why is it that we worry about the effects on the black market of a cigarette tax but don't apply the same logic to the effects of have other drugs be illegal? It is becoming more and more accepted in the scientific community that cigarettes are more fatal than marijuana. And while they might not get as much press as Islamic terrorism, we can all agree that the drug cartels are also very horrible criminal organizations. In fact, the drug market is responsible for an alarming chunk of our violent crimes. Why then does this get ignored but the cigarette black market gets its own article in the trib.?

I see two answers to that question. First, "just say no" is a quick, simple sound bite that is easy to campaign with, much more so that some long spiel about the economics of a black market. Second, the drug legalization lobby is written off as a radical left-wing group of pot smoking hippies, and the tobacco lobby spends millions of dollars every year.

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