The New York State Senate voted down a proposal to raise cigarette taxes $1.50. According to Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, it made no sense to raise any taxes after a $2 billion budget surplus was forecast. “We should not be imposing any new taxes on the hardworking families of the state,” Bonacic said.
As a smoker, I breathed a long sigh of relief at the news (well, as long a sigh as my near emphysemic lungs would allow.) New York State’s “sin taxes” are some of the highest in the nation, and any increase would have been devastating to the lower middle class, who couldn’t afford the cigarette increase, but also wouldn’t be able to afford nicorette gum, the patch, or any other smoking-cessation aids.
Non-smokers, of course, will feel no sympathy for these people, but I do. Cigarettes are still legal in the United States, and probably always will be. Cigarettes are one of the most difficult drugs to quit, not because nicotine is more addictive than heroin or cocaine, but because of the number of “hits per minute.” This refers to how many times in a minute that one gets a “hit” or a “bump” off the drug. For cigarettes, it can be as high as ten hits a minute. As anyone with drug counseling experience will tell you, this self-reinforcing behavior is hard to defeat.
Of course, one cannot discuss the issue of smoking without discussing the cost on the nation’s health care system, and that cost is staggering. Advocates for smoking taxes insist that the tax increases will be used to pay for this cost, but, in fact, much of the money comes not from state taxes, but from federal Medicaid dollars.
So what is the solution to the smoking problem? It starts, of course, with better education about smoking and its effects in school. But that’s not nearly enough. Smoking cessation materials need to be cheaper. While most health care plans cover smoking cessation products, 45.8 million Americans have no health coverage. So what are they to do? There’s Nicotine Anonymous, but it’s not available in most rural areas. They can quit cold turkey, but that rarely works. Smoking cessation is more successful with two factors: nicotine substitution and support from others.
So, here’s a suggested solution: The state raises taxes on cigarettes, and uses the money to create a program to provide smoking cessation products at a reasonable cost to state residents. That way, it’s smokers who are footing the bill for the program. Each county has a mental health system, so a nicotine cessation program can be started at each of these facilities, again using money gathered from cigarette taxes, to provide the support quitters need. The combination of smoking cessation products and group support should make quitting easier.Powered by Sidelines