Once upon a time it was waggishly referred to as a “sin-tax”.
The sin-tax was the bite governments took in granting companies official sanction to sell those ‘legal’ drugs, alcohol and tobacco. So, as you went to purchase your bottle of ‘Old Cirrhosis Rye’, you paid about eight-cents for the actual substance, and many, many extra dollars for the privilege of indulging your vice and in some cases ruining your health, becoming obnoxious, pissing in your pants and wreaking havoc in the community and on the highways.
In other words, it was the ‘revenuers’ greedy hand in the matter that made the wickedness costly. With tobacco it is the same. Governments — and who can blame them? — realized early on that people really like this nicotine stuff; some even ‘have’ to use it, so they should pay dearly to get it. The government coffers should swell handsomely thanks to the indulgences of the ‘weak’. Blessedly they haven’t yet found a way to tax sex, but they are assuredly working on it.
Since booze and tobacco are not deemed necessities of life, they are, in effect, luxuries, and those who have the wherewithal to purchase luxuries should also give a big bite to the taxman. If you don’t have the wherewithal, but choose to indulge anyway, so be it. Those who would officially have their hand in your pocket are very democratic; they do not discriminate in terms of your household’s financial status. All in all, it’s a pretty good scheme, except for one element that is rarely addressed: it puts our governments in the drug-dealing business.
And today, ironically, you have the contradiction of government sanctioned and financed health districts fomenting against the lifestyle excesses of their clients, and indeed the government itself takes a high-handed (disguised as high-road) approach to these health-assaulting substances — especially tobacco — yet ‘Big Brother’ continues to rake in the bucks from the flogging of the stuff, at breakneck pace.
If everybody were to quit smoking and drinking tomorrow, governments would be faced with a crisis of monstrous proportion. Yet, somehow those in the corridors of power do not appreciate this hypocrisy. This is especially true in the case of tobacco. Government officially fulminates against the weed, and tries, Quixote-like, to drive a lance through ‘Big Tobacco’ via doomed-to-fail lawsuits. At the same time officialdom continues to garner benefits from its sale.
It has not escaped the scrutiny of many smokers that if the government were indeed serious about the evils of tobacco consumption it would just outlaw the stuff as the public health hazard it genuinely is. But, we know that will not happen. The government is, with no exaggeration, in the position of being the ‘clean ‘dealer’ of illicit drugs who despises his pathetic clients, but is prepared to take their money for the dope he can lay on them.
However, rather than rail against hypocrisy, which is to no avail, we’ll instead assume there are those in power who take such matters as smoking and excessive drinking seriously, and would genuinely like to do something about public consumption.
For them, I offer a modest, yet deadly serious proposal. Rather than mount futile lawsuits against the companies that deal in alcohol and tobacco, why not hit ‘them’ with a 10 percent tax that is specifically dedicated to helping those who run afoul of the product? Statistics suggest (though they vary, depending on whom you’re talking to) that 80 to 90 percent of those who drink alcohol, do so safely, sanely and sociably. However, 10 to 20 percent (at least) of drinkers are alcoholics. That 10 to 20 percent is responsible for the bulk of such social ills as domestic abuse, neglected children, impaired driving, road fatalities, assaults (both sexual and physical), psychiatric ward admissions, emergency room admissions, and so on, through a virtually endless list of costly societal woes.
Meanwhile, recovery and rehabilitation centres (a potential growth industry, to be sure) are strained well past the maximum in attempting to help those souls who are desperately attempting to get away from their addiction.
So, take that 10 percent tax on the distillers and brewers, and direct it towards funding alcohol rehabilitation facilities and their employees. In other words, why shouldn’t the manufacturers of the stuff pay part of what is needed to help those who become addicted to their product?
Likewise tobacco. Most smokers would love to quit. They know their habit (an addiction some deem to be more difficult than heroin to break) is health-robbing. They would like to live to a ripe old age, too. A 10 percent tax on tobacco products (to be borne by the companies) would at least make available some resources and materials to aid in that objective. We could establish smoke-ending clinics on an ongoing basis, financed by this new revenue. We would be enabled to make nicotine patches, and other smoking cessation material available gratis. Pump some of this money into research on new means of breaking the back of this nefarious addiction.
Such would be a proactive step by government, infinitely more effective and honest than lawsuits and draconian bits of legislation and would genuinely show concern rather than greedy hypocrisy. We need a new sin-tax that will genuinely deal with the sin and sinner alike in a positive way.
As it exists now, hypocritical and enabling governments are the biggest sinners of the lot.