Feb 10, 2009

Financing health care in a smokey haze

by Tim Mattingly

After years of negative press, courtesy of the General Surgeon, cigarettes are found to promote good health in children. In fact, these carcinogen-packed “cancer sticks” could even save a child’s life. President Barack Obama and $33 billion make all this possible. On Feb. 4, the new president signed a bill funding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in an attempt to provide more children with healthcare, according to Fox News.

The hefty $33 billion tab will be picked up by cigarette smokers via a tobacco tax hike. Along with the SCHIP bill, Obama increased the federal cigarette excise tax by 62 cents, bringing it just over $1 per pack, according to a Forbes article.

“The way I see it, providing coverage to 11 million children through CHIP is a down payment on my commitment to every single American,” Obama said in a Miami Herald article.

However, children are not the only benefactors of this bill. With each pack purchased, smokers poison their bodies, inching their way closer to the obituaries. But with the newly increased cost of cigarettes in a time of economic hardship, there will be a greater personal incentive to break their addiction to nicotine.

Oddly enough, the SCHIP bill also poses a unique opportunity for the public relations division of tobacco companies. Consider the following advertisement: a little boy is coughing and cries that he does not feel well. A concerned yet powerless mother comforts her child, while in the background a helpless father buries his face in his hands. The scene fades and in its place appears the statistic: 11 million children have healthcare because of cigarettes.

A new cigarette company slogan will emerge — “At least you helped children as you died.”

And death is no stranger to the smoking world. An estimated 438,000 people die from cigarette-related deaths each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Not only is this type of taxation a rare chance to make something good out of something bad, but it can also be applied to other products that the American people cannot seem to do without.

One such “product,” which could easily be taxed is alcohol, and like tobacco it’s responsible for a number of deaths. There are over 100,000 fatalities each year as a result of “excessive” alcohol consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Like tobacco, alcohol can also become highly addictive.

Now is the time to enact such bills and legislation. After all, we are a nation of great opportunity, and now is the perfect time to be opportunistic. Especially considering our country’s economic predicament and the fact that in times of such high stress, many Americans will inevitably seek solace in unhealthy vices, such as smoking and alcohol abuse.

Until people can prove they are capable of sound judgment decisions, things such as tobacco and alcohol should be heavily taxed — call it a “stupidity tax.” While we cannot stop people from making bad choices, we can make them pay.

Contact Tim Mattingly at

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