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

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.'"

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 2, 2009; 11:27 AM ET
 
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Comments

I cancelled my newspaper delivery this morning because they felt that the AP editorial about this was front page news. We've just suffered through eight years of outright lies from our President and his administration about stuff that really matters, but the breaking of this off-hand "pledge" is big news? The country is burning, but by all means, let's make sure that every campaign promise is given fealty. Sure, he lied, he's a god damn politician. Who cares? We have bigger fish to fry then whether lower class Americans are going to find it hard to afford cigarettes.

Posted by: fletc3her | April 2, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

This isn't so much a tax on the poor, but rather a way to lower the medical costs for the poor. Reporting it as a tax on the poor is pure BS, right wing reporting.

Posted by: deblacksmith | April 2, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

"We've just suffered through eight years of outright lies from our President and his administration about stuff that really matters, but the breaking of this off-hand "pledge" is big news?"

They need the false equivalency to appear balanced. They can point to instances like this when the GOP slings charges of liberal favoritism for the umpteenth time. It also helps that the media doesn't pay nearly the penalty for bashing Democrats that they do for bashing Republicans.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 2, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

As an American I don't mind paying more so kids can be insured. As a smoker, I wish there could be a broader base of people taxed to pay for it; why not bump the booze tax? There are more liquor drinkers than smokers at this point, and it would be more fair.

Posted by: stimb | April 2, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

@stimb - I agree. I enjoy my scotch, but wouldn't mind if the tax on hard liquor were to increase, especially if the revenue were used to deal with the adverse consequences of inappropriate consumption.

Posted by: apn3206 | April 2, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Sin taxes force the govt to promote sin. No sin, no tax. No tax, no raise for the governor. The elimination of sin is the last thing the govt wants once it gets addicted to the money. My idea is to mandate that the tobacco companies pay for the health insurance of each and every smoker in the nation. Give out health care cards with every pack. If the smoker gets sick, the tobacco company foots the medical bill. Simple, elegant, impossible.

Posted by: davidbn27 | April 2, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Yet another broken promise.
He wasn't going to raise taxes on the poor, he did.
He wasn't going to have lobbyists in his administration, he does.
He was going to have tough ethics standards but he approved a number of individuals to work for him or offered them up as appointees when they were tax cheats, not tax error victems but out right blatant cheats!
Mark my words, he will abandon Israel, is a socialist, will use the financial crisis to saddle us with socialist programs that will crush us as FDR did, etc. Misguided or so hateful of america he wants to ruin it, either way its the same result.

Posted by: smokedsalmoned | April 2, 2009 10:31 PM | Report abuse

All this uproar over cigarette taxes? good grief this is right up there with the Al Gore "inventing the internet" garbage. When Republicans are in the White House the MSM is asleep at the wheel, but a Democrat gets in and any thing they can glom onto is labeled "outrageous" and tossed on the front page. 'Liberal Media' my arse!

It's also worth noting that it's an optional tax. Don't want to pay; don't smoke.

As sin taxes go it makes perfect sense. Smokers endanger the health of everyone around them. Fewer smoking parents means healthier kids which means lower costs for SCHIP.

Posted by: foxn | April 2, 2009 10:38 PM | Report abuse

I had hoped that the Obama administration would be less deceitful and duplicitous than the former Bush/Cheney administration, but I guess I was wrong.

For instance, this tobacco tax increase is supposed to fund a $32.8 billion expansion in children's health insurance coverage (commendable, but pales in comparison to the several trillion dollar bail-out of Wall Street)...and yet at the same time one of the stated goals of the radical anti-smoking crowd is that this huge tobacco tax increase will force smokers to quit or cut-back.

So, which is it?

Because for some strange reason, logic says that if the radical anti-smoking crowd succeed in the latter (cutting smoking rates), then the former (funding SCHIPS) will suffer major revenue shortfalls.

And we haven't even looked at the adverse financial impact this tobacco embargo will no doubt have on the revenues of small businesses, especially the thousands upon thousands that sell tobacco products, and how such a regressive tax will probably lead to American workers being laid off, since this anti-smoking tax will assuredly contract our economy even further, because it directly impacts consumer spending.

One would think any sane person would avoid doing anything that will hurt consumer spending in a recessionary period, but this is what some so-called "sane" people have just done, which means that jobs will be lost and tens (if not hundreds) of thousands more American workers will end up unemployed.

And all because some anti-smokers are just as radical, ideological-wise, as any anti-abortion, anti-alcohol, anti-marijuana, anti-whatever zero-tolerance fanatic.

And the really ironic thing is that many of these rabid anti-smokers are more than likely going to see some of their own family members or friends lose their jobs because their zero-tolerant ideology trumped any sanity they might have had left.

In any recessionary period, I repeat, one does not hurt the financial situation of those in society making the least, unless one wants to see the recession deepen and last longer...which apparently some wing-nut Dems just did.

Posted by: wizard2000 | April 3, 2009 1:07 AM | Report abuse

When did the AP start pushing opinion pieces??

Posted by: geneb5 | April 3, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Wait a minute...I don't smoke, so Obama did not break any promise to me, or to the millions of other Americans who do not use tobacco products. It appears that critics of the president are low on substance if this is the best they can do. I sense projection from the Bush loyalists. A desperation to level the same charges against Obama, whether legitimate or not, that were leveled against Bush: dishonesty, incompetence, power-grabbing. The symmetry is too neat to be a coincidence, and Obama's tenure is too short for the claims to be warranted, and yet the "liberal media" appears happy to recite this crap. When will we all grow up?

Posted by: Bodini | April 3, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

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