So I got my voter pamphlet in the mail yesterday, as Oregon is having a special election on November 6–why?  Well, why not?  Do we need a special reason to have a special election?  Can’t we just have a special election just because?  Which reminds me, I need to figure out how to lay my hands on a ballot, since I don’t think they’re forwarded (at least I hope they aren’t, but maybe I’m hopelessly naive).  Anyway, the burning issues on the table this time are property rights (or if you prefer, property privileges) and a tobacco tax.  Oh, so this is why we’re having a special election.  Wow.  When’s Arbor Day again?

I won’t bore you with any commentary on the property rights measure because a) it’s complicated, b) it really is boring, and c) it even bores me.  Instead I’ll bore you with commentary on the tobacco tax.  (Why?  Well, why not?  It’s still a free country.  So far.)  Then maybe I’ll bore you with some random factoids that have nothing to do with anything.  I’m just going to play it by ear.

It should come as no surprise to most of you that I am not a smoker–never have been a smoker, never wanted to smoke, never had any relatives who smoked.  Well, I had one relative who smoked, but he’s been dead for twenty-five years and I didn’t know him all that well anyway.  That’s not the point.  The point is that I don’t buy tobacco products, as I have no use for them and they don’t make suitable gifts for anyone I know.  I also don’t own any RJ Reynolds stock that I know of.  I don’t know.  I think RJ Reynolds owns just about everything that isn’t owned by Proctor & Gamble, or do they own Proctor & Gamble, too?  All these mega corporations, I can’t keep up with them.  Anyway, those are my disclaimers.  I don’t smoke.  I don’t hang out in smoke-filled bars.  Even the one relative I had who smoked died of non-smoking-related causes.  I belong to a religion that says tobacco is a big no-no, and for that I’m kind of grateful because if I was ever tempted to think that smoking would make me look cool, I had my faith to remind me that I could never be cool, so why bother with the death sticks? 

Despite the fact that smoking is pretty scandalous in the Mormon community, I’ve never been a big anti-smoking crusader.  I mean, I’m not in favor of smoking.  I think not smoking is healthier.  I’d be concerned if my kids took up smoking, mostly because I don’t think I could ever get the smell out of the laundry.  Just kidding!  I totally want their lungs to stay nice and pink.  Lungs are just better that way.  Then there’s that whole cancer/emphysema thing.  I’ve never been a risk-taker.  NutraSweet and driving is about as dangerous as I get.  But I’ve never thought of smoking as a sin.  It would be a sin for me because as a Mormon I am required to abstain from tobacco.  But even if I should decide to take up another sin and randomly chose smoking, I wouldn’t consider it a major sin.  But even if it were a major sin, it’s sort of irrelevant as far as public policy goes.  The way I see it, adultery is a big sin, but it’s not illegal, so why should I get het up about smoking?  I don’t. 

What I do get het up over is this asinine idea of amending our state’s constitution to increase the tobacco tax in the name of funding children’s healthcare.  That bugs me, for the following reasons: 

1.  Why do we have to amend the constitution every time someone gets a bright or not-so-bright idea?

2.  There’s no way a single tax on a single type of product is going to provide adequate funding for a program this big. 

3.  It’s just not fair. 

Yes, smoking is bad for your health.  It’s annoying to non-smokers.  It can affect the health of children and other vulnerable non-smokers.  Which is why it makes sense to practice common courtesy–as in “mind if I smoke?” and “I suppose I can wait until I’m finished grocery shopping before I light up.”  (Incidentally, if you can’t wait until you’re finished grocery shopping, you should seek help.)  At the same time, I think non-smokers need to lighten up a little.  I admit, I personally am not sensitive to cigarette smoke.  (Although fresh cigarette smoke smells about twenty times better than stale cigarette smoke, that’s neither here nor there.)  I’ve known people who were, and I appreciate the extent of their irritation and discomfort.  It’s not unreasonable to want to breathe fresh air.  Smokers should understand that.  But non-smokers should understand that a) smoking is legal and therefore totally permissable in the comfort of one’s own home and other designated smoking areas, and b) it isn’t the fault of smokers that some children don’t have health insurance.

I’m not even going to touch the fact that most of the revenue from this tax isn’t even earmarked for kids’ healthcare.  (That’s sort of a no-brainer, isn’t it?  Since when is most of the revenue supposedly earmarked for something actually intended for that thing?)  I won’t even address the issue of whether or not health insurance is an appropriate pie for governmental fingers to be in.  Let’s say that all the revenue goes to pay for kids’ healthcare.  Let’s say that kids’ healthcare is a noble cause that taxpayers should support.  Shouldn’t all taxpayers be expected to shoulder this burden?  Why must the onus be on smokers particularly? 

Because smokers are a minority–and for what it’s worth, they tend to skew lower-income and non-white–and since most people do not smoke, a tax on smokers doesn’t negatively affect most people.  A win-win situation, unless you happen to be a smoker, and if you are, well, you deserve to have higher taxes because you’re doing something socially unacceptable. 

Ever notice the lack of extra taxes on things like alcoholic beverages?  Say what you will about the health risks of smoking, but they don’t begin to approach the damage that alcohol can do.  To be sure, most people drink responsibly.  But that doesn’t change the fact that alcohol impairs judgment, and tobacco does not.  A driver can be distracted while smoking, but he or she can also be distracted while talking on a cell phone or looking for something in the glove box or threatening to put the hurt on some kids if they don’t stop fighting and whining about when they’re going to get there.  Your ability to drive is not impaired by smoking a cigarette before you get into the car.  Generally speaking, tobacco abuse does not contribute to automobile accidents, nor to sexual assaults, nor to domestic violence, nor to violent crime, nor to drowning, for that matter.  Alcohol abuse contributes to all of those things, in addition to health problems like cirrhosis and cancer of the liver, as well as heart disease and circulatory problems. 

And yet you don’t see much support for taxes on alcoholic beverages.  Why not?  Because most people drink alcohol at least occasionally, and it’s an activity that occurs with more or less equal frequency among different socio-economic (and racial) groups.  You would have more success trying to pass a tax on Big Macs.  Speaking of which, why not tax Big Macs?  And Fritos and pork rinds and Oreos and Mountain Dew?  Non-organic baby food?  Maybe you do favor a tax on these items, but good luck getting it passed.  Wait, I’m having a psychic moment:  It Will Never Happen.

There’s another, practical problem with a tax like this:  the revenues inevitably dry up.  I know smokers who say they don’t mind the tax because they know they shouldn’t smoke in the first place.  I know people who have quit smoking because they just couldn’t justify the expenditure anymore.  I don’t know anyone who keeps smoking because they know the state really needs the money.  Funny how that works.  Or doesn’t work, depending on your point of view. 

Boring you with my commentary has become tiresome.  On to the irrelevant factoids:

  • My children could eat a two-pound brick of cheese in one sitting if I let them.  Each.
  • Mister Bubby wants to have a Rampage party for his birthday.  If only his birthday had been last month, we could have had the party guests destroy our burnt-up bathroom.  500 points to the monster who takes out the shower!
  • I am currently stealing wireless internet access from my neighbors, and I feel guilty about it.  I keep meaning to call to get our internet turned on here, but I know that when I do, they’re going to try to sell me a billion other things that I don’t want, and I’m going to get frustrated and want to scream at them.  I could tell them about the fire, but they will probably only want to sell me fire insurance.  Because if you bundle your fire insurance with your internet and your telephone and your wireless, you can save twenty percent for the first three months. 
  • Nearly a year after Newsweek last told me my subscription was about to expire and I would receive no further issues unless I took immediate action, I think it has finally stopped coming.

And now, lunch.