deep thoughts on sin taxes and tobacco bans

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Did it have to do with chaw?

    Perhaps on the difference when it comes to inhaling cigar/pipe smoke (presumably unfiltered) vs. Chocolate Mocha filtered cigarettes?Report

  2. Avatar Chad says:

    The losing of their monthly clove cigarettes has made my social-democrat friends begin talking like libertarians. I love it.
    But I still miss my monthly cloves.Report

  3. Avatar Kyle says:

    Deep thoughts in stream of consciousness?

    Well I’m at a crossroads on sin taxes and bans. On one hand I prefer taxes to outright bans as I think people should be free to do harmful things to themselves, but we should be free to recoup the external costs of those actions and discourage such activities by making them expensive.

    On the other, your deep thought #7, which creates an odd bind, successful taxes reduce income for “good” things. Then again, that’s really just an argument against dedicated revenue streams outside of payroll taxes…Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Kyle says:

      True – taxes are certainly better than bans. But at what stage do we begin defining sin? Beer may be bad for you if you drink too much of it, but it’s just as highly taxed if you stick to one. Same for wine – both drinks proven, at modest levels, to be good for your heart. I’m just saying.Report

  4. Given that sin taxes are usually on goods that have relatively low elasticity, they’re more of a revenue source than they are a way of reducing bad behavior. In most ways sin taxes are used to lower the costs of negative externalities caused by consuming the product in question (such as cigarettes) that cause things like public health costs.Report

  5. Avatar Cascadian says:

    If you exercise, don’t eat at McDonald’s and commute by bike, can you get a discount on beer, pot, and prostitutes?Report

  6. Avatar Mark says:

    There is quite a difference between marijuana and tobacco. Tobacco is either smoked or sucked on. Tobacco smoke is actually different compared to marijuana smoke. Do yourself a favor and Google “Dr. Donald Tashkin UCLA”. Smoking marijuana had NO correlation to lung cancer; however, it actually showed signs of protection against lung cancer.

    I vote to not tax marijuana to the extent of tobacco… because marijuana doesn’t cause the harms to society that tobacco does. Marijuana can be eaten, vaporized, or tinctured. If you tax marijuana to that extent, there will exist a black market for it. If you allow Americans to grow the marijuana plant for personal use, there might be an initial influx of people growing, but there will be no need for Mexican Cartels or “marijuana dealers”. The only problem we have with marijuana currently… ARE THE LAWS and the societal HYSTERIA which has been ingrained in our brains for the past 70 years.

    Ask yourself this… why was marijuana made illegal in the first place. It wasn’t because of our youths…Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Mark says:

      Fair enough on the tobacco front Mark but to be balanced a stoned person at the wheel would be a genuine menace where as a smoker will just have bad breath.Report

      • Avatar 420 guy in reply to North says:

        Ok North, then you must be willing to ban alcohol then since alcohol impairs your judgment as well. In fact there are numerous studies showing that people high on marijuana are actually pretty good drivers and due to the effect marijuana has on a person they are more aware of their impairment and compensate by driving slower and paying more attention. Simple laws that already exist which ban impaired driving already prohibit smoking weed and driving, so its a non issue really.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Mark says:

      I think there is something almost sad about the idea of taxed and regulated marijuana. It’s like the last frontier somehow.Report

  7. Avatar Alex Knapp says:

    Smoking marijuana had NO correlation to lung cancer; however, it actually showed signs of protection against lung cancer.

    So does daily cigar smoking, actually…Report

  8. Avatar North says:

    E.D. I’ll speak on behalf of the entire gay communities when I say you can have our daiquiris (and other fruity drinks) when you pry them from our cold dead manicured and tastefully polished hands (Heston eat your heart out).Report

  9. Avatar US says:

    Yeah. The government is always going to hate anything that involves breathing in hot air for a fun recreation.

    We all have to suck it up.Report

  10. Avatar M.Z. says:

    I think there are something like 3 principles of taxation. One is that the tax source be stable, not subject to wild variability. A second principle is that the tax should not cause a disproportionate economic disruption. Sin taxes meet both counts. Luxury taxes don’t.

    As for marijuana, goodness. Like alcohol, it is primarily a public nuisance. Those that don’t recognize that both are public nuisances are just ideologues. That doesn’t mean the use of either cannot have some utility, even social utility. Up to this point, the pro-marijuana side has not been persuasive that the benefits out-weigh the costs.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to M.Z. says:

      That’s nonsense. Marijuana is also a drug which helps lots of people who are in pain. Tell them they’re just a nuisance. Besides the benefits are the costs. Legalize marijuana and you not only generate tax revenue, you get to stop spending so much damn money on law enforcement, imprisonment, and so on and so forth. Again: the benefits are the costs. It’s not one vs. the other.Report

      • Avatar M.Z. in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Put your joint down long enough and read what I actually said rather than what your doped up brain thought I said.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to M.Z. says:

          I don’t smoke – anything. And another comment like that and you might as well not come back.Report

          • Avatar M.Z. in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            Grow some skin. After I said marijuana use can have some utility, you thrown grannies smoking weed as coup de grace of marijuana being a public nuisance. And contra Jaybird, alcohol is a tremendous public nuisance from lost productivity to domestic violence to drunk driving. To the extent we should tolerate these nuisances for whatever benefits obtain is a legitimate matter of public debate. I actually come down on the side making use and distribution civil and misdemeanor offenses.Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to M.Z. says:

              Actually M.Z. this is my house. I’ll grow skin if I damn well please. And you’ll abide by the commenting policy if you want to keep commenting here.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to M.Z. says:

              Lost productivity??? HEAVEN FOREFEND!!!

              Let’s start bitching about the internet too. (Why are you posting instead of creating widgets, you slacker?)

              Those people over there? They don’t live to provide services to you. Complaining about how they drink instead of providing added value is creepy. Imagine that I said “creepy” in a really high pitched voice. That’s what that is, dude.

              What people do in their free time (when I presume you are okay with them not creating added value for you) is none of your friggin’ business.

              Friggin’ puritans.Report

              • Avatar M.Z. in reply to Jaybird says:

                Recognizing social cost isn’t puritanical. Refusing to do so is a symptom of being a zealot. Likewise, if I refused to recognize any benefit to marijuana use, calling me an ideological zealot would be appropriate.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to M.Z. says:

                Miscegenated marriage had “social costs”.

                So friggin what? You know what the people who pointed them out and then held up their hands and said “I’m just saying! What, we can’t recognize social costs?” were?

                They were being disingenuous, that’s what they were.Report

            • Avatar Kyle in reply to M.Z. says:

              As in Prohibition…because you know that worked out so well the first time.

              I’m (not) sorry, I just really can’t stand lazy arguments about how “terrible” alcohol is.

              Ack! Lost Production! The Horror! The End of the Protestant Work Ethic and Life as We Know It!!! *gag*

              I’m not sympathetic to lost productivity arguments because they apply to a variety of examples and if people aren’t drinking, they’re getting high off dust cleaner, or they’re taking their smoking breaks, or they’re playing solitaire.

              Domestic violence versus the likely violence resulting from an illegal black market? Hardly seems worth it. Moreover, I don’t see how it’s reasonable to run around criminalizing things that might lead someone, somewhere to engage in criminal activity? Good luck with that.

              As for drunk driving, it’s funny how people always seem to complain about the drunk half of that equation and not the driving half. After all, people having a telephone conversation (whether hands free or not), eating while in the car, attending to children in a car, and who drive while tired can be just as hazardous and prone to get into accidents. In fact, you can be just as impaired driving while drowsy as while drunk. Yet, strangely we don’t seem to care about that, perhaps because it lacks the puritan glamour of prohibition.

              Incidentally, next week is National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.

              As for marijuana, if you want to go on a South American/border town apology and listening tour and hear how criminalizing the substance has devastated whole communities, be my guest.Report

              • Avatar M.Z. in reply to Kyle says:

                I don’t know how I got pigeon-holed as a prohibitionist here. If you don’t think drunk driving and domestic violence are problems worth addressing, I don’t know what to say. Don’t get me wrong. I’m cool with you claiming banning alcohol is imprudent. I don’t think alcohol should be banned. I do however think such things as bans on drunk driving and banning the serving of intoxicated patrons (even if rarely enforced) are important. Other things like open consumption prohibitions are certainly open for debate. BTW, there is a whole mythology around what we learned from Prohibition that is too much for me to go into here.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to M.Z. says:

                it may have something to do with this:

                “To the extent we should tolerate these nuisances for whatever benefits obtain is a legitimate matter of public debate. I actually come down on the side making use and distribution civil and misdemeanor offenses.”

                Now this could just be a problem with plural-antecedent clarity, but it’s not hard to see how a fair reading of what you’re suggesting, distribution of “these nuisances” (previously identified as marijuana and alcohol) a misdemeanor amounts to prohibitionism.

                We could get into misapplied lessons from prohibition but one incontrovertible lesson is the role the law played in creating a black market for alcohol that supported organized crime, somewhat similar to our current day problem with drug cartels.

                At no point did I say or imply that drunk driving or domestic violence aren’t problems worth addressing, I just think they’re lazy, inconsistent reasons for supporting stringent alcohol laws.Report

              • Avatar M.Z. in reply to Kyle says:

                Fair enough. I was speaking of marijuana. Making the use of marijuana a civil offense is generally considered decriminalization, albeit the mildest variety.

                Yes, prohibition shifted alcohol consumption from legal use to illegal use. Yes, criminal syndicates supported that use.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to M.Z. says:

                “Yes, prohibition shifted alcohol consumption from legal use to illegal use. Yes, criminal syndicates supported that use.”

                Here’s the best part:
                Prohibitionists promised something else entirely.
                http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B07E0DB1F38E533A25754C1A9679C946195D6CF

                That’s a great story. Click on the link and read the original!

                As it turned out, Prohibition had social costs. Huh. Billy Sunday was too busy looking at the social costs of alcohol to imagine what would happen. Instead we (reportedly) had sermons containing lines like the following: “The reign of tears is over,” he asserted. “The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs.”

                Hey. He was just acknowledging the social costs, right?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to M.Z. says:

                “I don’t know how I got pigeon-holed as a prohibitionist here.”

                For the record, I see you more as a puritan busybody.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to M.Z. says:

          Holy crap, you were serious with the public nuisance thing???

          Okay.

          Complaining about alcohol being primarily a public nuisance is to completely miss a whole bunch of stuff… notably, the alcohol consumed in the home responsibly by responsible adults, the alcohol consumed irresponsibly by irresponsible adults who are responsible enough to have a sucker come along as a designated driver, and the alcohol consumed irresponsibly by irresponsible adults in the privacy of their own home.

          Sure, the hobo under the park bench has a bottle of Night Train (“it’ll get you there!”) cradled in his arms. Sure, the drunk driver was drunk. These things are public nuisances, sure… but you know what? The hobo has a lot more going on with him than the Night Train. It ain’t the alcohol making him be a hobo. Odds are, the alcohol is helping him deal with the burdens that have resulted hobosity. Drunk driving? Well, The State is cracking down on that enough as it is. MADD is moving toward becoming neo-Prohibitionist.

          To focus on alcohol as PRIMARILY a public nuisance is… well, it’s puritan. The same with weed. Sure, I hate Reggae music, Ren and Stimpy, and white people with dredlocks as much as anybody. More so, probably.

          But weed’s public nuisanceness is tied DIRECTLY into its prohibition. The criminal element? Much like with Prohibition in the 30’s, once they got rid of the bad laws, the bad criminals weren’t able to make money off of people wanting a buzz at the end of a crappy day… and people didn’t have to buy gin to get buzzed, they could go back to buying beer and wine. When marijuana is legalized, much of it’s public nuisanceness will evaporate.

          With luck, maybe there will be less obnoxious subculture stuff associated with it as well.

          We’ll still have to deal with puritan busybodies though. That’ll still be legal.Report

          • Avatar Bo in reply to Jaybird says:

            That’s all true, but…

            One of our town’s local characters is an ex-cop who’s now a speaker for LEAP. He sometimes has to speak to local policemen, and he has a shtick that he likes to use: He’ll ask the cops, “When was the last time you had to wrestle a violent drunk to the ground?”, at which point they’ll usually start jokingly looking down at their watches to check what time of day it is and retelling old drunk stories. Then he’ll ask, “Ok, now when was the last time you had to wrestle a violent pot smoker to the ground?”, and the room will go silent.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to M.Z. says:

      Pleasure should be something that you experience after accomplishing something.

      When I was a kid and you wanted to feel good, you *DID* something.

      Kids these days, when they want to feel good, just buy a bag of reefer.

      And that is why society is going to hell in a handbasket.Report

    • Avatar Cascadian in reply to M.Z. says:

      So, for something to be legal it has to be proven to be beneficial? against all cultural naysayers? Organized religion, or the Union for that matter could never pass this unanimous test. Many have already been convinced of the benefits of marijuana, that’s clear. Lets turn this around. Even if there were no positive benefits, would the costs associated with prohibition be justified by the supposed harms done by criminalizing it?Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to M.Z. says:

      If anything, our criminalizing of marijuana has created much more than public nuisances across Latin America. Just because Americans aren’t bearing the brunt of the costs doesn’t mean they don’t exist.Report

  11. I think the state of California which is almost bankrupt should legalize pot and tax it for 3 yrs under an evaluation period. Then look back and decide whether to keep it, modify it or get rid of it. Then based on their success or not the rest of the country will followReport

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