Friday, November 21, 2008

Tobacco, punitive taxation equal tragedy

Massena overlooks the mighty St Lawrence River in the most northerly part of New York State. On Friday, November 14, two residents of Massena were killed instantly when their car was struck by a suspected cigarette smuggler fleeing police.

Edward and Eileen Kassian, both 77, were returning home following a visit to Montreal. The second vehicle involved in the collision was a minivan driven by 21-year-old Dany Gionet, of St. Jean sur Richelieu, Que. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

Residents of the Akwasesne Reserve are justifiably upset over the incident calling it senseless and uncalled for. "The Mohawk police did not disengage and set up a barrier or spike the roadway. The suspect vehicle was trapped," said Akwesasne resident Kateri Benedict. "The driver would have abandoned that vehicle, instead the Akwesasne Mohawk Police continued with a high-speed pursuit and ramming of the vehicle until the fatal crash."

Full details of the pursuit have not been released as yet pending an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police.

Some Canadians will blame the suspect in the case for allegedly engaging in illegal activity. Some will blame the police for what is alleged to be an unnecessary pursuit.

But, there are others deserving of blame in this tragic incident.

Anti-smoker bigots have been leading spineless politicians down the road to tobacco prohibition for decades. Yet neither has the courage to admit it; neither has the courage to call for outright prohibition. Both understand the consequences of such a prohibition.

Wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in relation to the ending of alcohol prohibition in the early thirties, wrote: “Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”

Tobacco prohibition would be no different. So, governments, under constant pressure from anti-smoker groups, use a piecemeal approach to prohibition. A public campaign to “de-normalize” those who choose to smoke has been initiated by the anti-smoker bigots, with the full consent of the government. Draconian smoking bans and blatant discrimination directed at smokers is the order of the day.

And, then there’s taxation.

Cigarette smuggling has become a very lucrative proposition in recent years, as senior levels of government continue to increase already punitive levels of taxation on smokers in efforts to force them to quit. Tobacco taxes have increased to historical highs and there is still constant pressure from anti-smoker activists to increase them even further.

According to the latest figures from Physicians for a Smokefree Canada, combined federal-provincial tax revenue for the 2006 – 2007 fiscal year was almost 7 Billion dollars, excluding federal and provincial sales taxes. Earlier this year, the federal Minister of Public Safety was lamenting the fact government was losing over 2 billion a year in taxes to the sale of contraband (black market) tobacco.

Tobacco is still a legal product in Canada. Smoking is still a legal activity. But, punishing levels of taxation have made it unaffordable for a growing number of Canadians. They will look for lower priced product. And, given the billions of dollars at stake, they will find someone to provide it.

The anti-smoker brigade will whine about contraband inhibiting their crusade to force smokers to quit. The government will whine about the loss of billions in taxes. They will scream in unison for tougher enforcement measures against contraband and ignore the lessons learned from the prohibition of alcohol.

Neither will accept any culpability for the recent tragedy in Akwasesne.

But, in the eyes of one old rambler, both are as guilty as hell.

1 comment:

Michael J. McFadden said...

Instead of attacking the problem at its roots, the excessive and unfair taxation of a minority group, the authorities simply call for more enforcement... which will lead to more deaths, more people being imprisoned, and more taxation on everyone.

Cigarettes should be taxed fairly to reflect any extra health care costs due to their use. Fair evaluations of such costs point to it being around 50 cents per pack at the most.

Normally law-abiding citizens by the millions feel fine about breaking smuggling laws and smoking illegal cigarettes because they know that the taxation is unfair and feel perfectly justified in evading it. Until that root cause is dealt with we are going to see more and more deaths, crime, and general breakdown in our social system.

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"