Monday, September 14, 2009

Making tobacco cheaper & more accessible for kids

There are few Canadians who would disagree with the proposition that otherwise legal commodities such as alcohol and tobacco should be kept out of the hands of children. The logic behind such restraints is perfectly understandable.

The time frame between birth through the teen years is generally acknowledged as an educational period. And, although one might argue about the arbitrary age attached to adulthood, there is little debate on the need to support children and teenagers during this youthful period in their lives. Hopefully, during these formative years, parents and our educational system are providing children with the tools they'll need to meet the challenges of modern day adult life.

Protecting children and teenagers includes encouraging them to refrain from adopting lifestyle behaviours which may adversely impact them in later life; drugs, alcohol, smoking and promiscuous sexual activity. Each of these carries consequences of which young people should be made aware.

This is primarily a responsibility of the parent.

But, it must be admitted that some state regulation is justified to minimize the risk of young people making inappropriate lifestyle decisions; at least until they reach a level of maturity where they can make informed decisions for themselves.

In Canada, the age at which one can legally buy tobacco, like alcohol, is set at 19. Convenience stores don't sell cigarettes to minors. Therefore minors have a difficult time supporting a smoking habit. By keeping tobacco out of the hands of minors, youth smoking prevalence can be kept to a minimum.

To be sure, some teenagers will find ways to acquire cigarettes or booze with which to conduct their experiments in “adult” lifestyles. But, by and large, strictly enforced regulations prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco to minors is sufficient to accomplish the task.

Enter the anti-smoker cartel. Proclaiming an epidemic in youth smoking prevalence, they insist that additional, stronger measures are required to control the perceived problem. And, these measures include taxing cigarettes to the point where they are cost prohibitive to the average teenager.

Unfortunately, there are some very real concerns with this prohibitionist tactic.

First, tobacco taxes unfairly target adult consumers of a legal commodity, not just minors interested in experimenting with something considered taboo. And, because tobacco taxes are regressive in nature, they impact the poor much more than they affect the well off. So the first ones to feel the impact of regressive taxation are low income wage earners, pensioners, those dependent on various forms of social welfare, etc.

This reality is lost on the anti-smoker, of course. They are as much, if not more, interested in reducing smoking prevalence in the adult population as they are in preventing children from acquiring the habit.

The government, salivating at the very thought of billions in additional tax revenue, are quick to acknowledge the need to control the mostly imagined epidemic and impose the punitive levels of taxation demanded by the anti-smoker cult; for the public good and to protect the children, of course.

But, there is growing evidence that repressive tax measures are counter-productive.

Laws prohibiting sales of tobacco products to minors are no longer effective. Children and teenagers are no longer dependent on legal retail outlets to access a regular supply of cigarettes. The high cost of tobacco, driven by punitive levels of taxation, has created a blossoming black market.

In this underground economy, kids have hassle free access to tobacco products. They don't have to concern themselves with producing ID or proof of age, because the sellers of contraband don't care. And the contraband product is much cheaper than the legal option.

Thanks to the excessive levels of taxation imposed by government, at the insistence of the anti-smoker cult, kids now have greater access to tobacco than ever, at a substantially lower cost.

The government will never realize the revenue windfall expected from tobacco taxes while smokers are buying cheaper, untaxed contraband. And, enforcement of customs and excise law is rapidly becoming a very costly (and largely futile) venture. The profit potential from black market sales is just too great.

It was a predictable problem, with over 5 million alleged addicts ready and willing to avoid paying the legal extortion demanded by their government. And, as in the days of prohibition, the government, not the dealers in contraband, are seen as the enemy.

And, the problem of youth access to tobacco products, rather than being curtailed, has been exacerbated.

Pure stupidity.

See also: Australlian smokers face $20.00/pack cigarettes

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