Obama's Tax on the (Smoking) Non-Rich

By Dan Froomkin
11:27 AM ET, 04/ 2/2009

Calvin Woodward writes for the Associated Press: "One of President Barack Obama's campaign pledges on taxes went up in puffs of smoke Wednesday.

"The largest increase in tobacco taxes took effect despite Obama's promise not to raise taxes of any kind on families earning under $250,000 or individuals under $200,000.

"This is one tax that disproportionately affects the poor, who are more likely to smoke than the rich."

Obama's no-taxes pledge was most often made in the context of income taxes. But consider this: "'I can make a firm pledge,' he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. 'Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.'...

"The White House contends Obama's campaign pledge left room for measures such as [this] one financing children's health insurance."

The Las Vegas Review Journal editorial board is smoking mad: "These pronouncements were what in polite company might generously be called...flat-out lies....

"[A] White House mouthpiece claimed this week, the 'no tax hike' pledge applied only to payroll and income taxes.

"Wrong. Read the quotes.

"Barack Obama may indeed be a new kind of politician. Just not when his lips move."

But the Anniston (Ala.) Star editorial board snuffs out such talk: "Apart from the momentary pleasure of lighting up, dipping or chewing, what good does tobacco do?

"With the new federal tax on tobacco that went into effect Wednesday, tobacco will now help fund a $32.8 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides insurance for lower-income children....

"Applause is due to Congress for passing this law and President Barack Obama for signing it."

Brian Tumulty writes for Gannett: "The higher prices should have the positive effect of reducing teenage smoking, according to Dr. Jonathan Klein, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester.

"'There's very good evidence that adolescents are the most price-sensitive,' Klein said."

And much of the price increase facing smokers is coming from Big Tobacco itself. Tumulty writes: "Earlier this month the manufacturer of Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims, Philip Morris USA, increased prices by 71 cents a pack, 9 cents more than the federal tax increase. The maker of Camel, Kool and Salem cigarettes, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, bumped wholesale prices up by 44 cents a pack and reduced discounting."

Robert Behre, writing in the Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., found some anger and some resignation among local smokers.

"'I hate it,' said Carmen Burnet of West Ashley. 'It's hurtful. They need to do it (raise taxes) with alcohol more than cigarettes.'

"Sandra Castellano said she had been working toward quitting in any case, and the tax increase was simply the final straw. 'I'm not giving Obama no more of my damn money,' she said. 'They're just hoggish.'"

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