Thursday, March 31, 2011

Should we be grateful for anti-smoker abuse?

What do governments do when faced with crippling deficits and the need to either reduce spending or raise taxes? Well, they polish up the hobnails and put the boots to the sinners. Smokers are an exceptionally popular target these days.

New Brunswick's Finance Minister, Blaine Higgs, is trying to persuade smokers in that province they shouldn’t turn to the black market following a recent 45% increase in provincial tobacco taxes. Last week, the debt ridden province raised the level of legalized extortion on a carton of smokes from $23.40 per carton to $34.00 per carton. The government hopes to extort an additional $44 million annually from the province's smokers.

The increase in provincial sin taxes will bring the price of a carton of cigarettes in New Brunswick to roughly $90.00, over 75% of which is tax imposed by one level of government or another. This is generating some concern that New Brunswick's smokers may take to buying contraband. Or, perhaps in the interests of accuracy, we should say there is concern that more smokers may switch their allegiance to contraband tobacco products.

A Globe and Mail article quotes Higgs: “I’m asking all citizens to do their part. If they’re going to smoke, we’d like for them to pay taxes legally.” Uh-huh.

First they divide the population into opposing camps and endorse an anti-smoker campaign to denormalize the smaller of the two groups; smokers. Then they pass laws to drive smokers into social isolation, relegate them to the status of second class citizens, confiscate a substantial portion of their wealth, allow their paid mercenaries in the anti-smoker industry to encourage and promote discrimination against smokers, discrimination which would not be tolerated against any other identifiable minority . . . and they promote this unbridled hatred of smokers under the pretext of protecting public health.

And, of course, smokers should be thankful for the punishment meted out by the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker and their altar boys at all levels of government. It's for their own good, after all.

It's also fucking infuriating.

Yes, they admit, punitive tax increases impose a serious financial burden on the poor. But if they're forced to choose between eating and buying cigarettes maybe some will be forced to give up the cigarettes. And, the zealots have pronounced that “good”, motivated as they are by their alleged concern for the welfare of smokers.(And, if you believe the anti-smoker zealots, or their political lapdogs, are really interested in the welfare of smokers, I still have some oceanfront property in the Alberta badlands for sale.)

Of course, those feeling the financial pinch might just opt to take advantage of the $50 to $60 a carton savings available from making their tobacco purchases on the black market and apply those savings to their food budget.

I made my choice years ago. I've been waging my own quiet protest against the tyranny of the anti-smoker zealots, saving thousands of dollars in the process and I haven't been bitten in the ass by a single terrorist.

Go ahead. Ask me if I feel guilty. You silly fool.

There's little doubt contraband cigarettes pose a growing problem across Canada. In Ontario, for example, it's estimated that somewhere between 40% to 50% of all tobacco sales are contraband.

A few days before Higgs announced his latest round of confiscatory tobacco taxes, a 53 year old Bas-Caraquet (New Brunswick) woman was fined $55,000 after the Mounties executed a search warrant and found 520 cartons of contraband smokes believed to have been acquired somewhere “up the line” in Quebec or Ontario. Was the government trying to send a message?

By some estimates, only between 3% and 10% of the underground trade gets stopped. But I think that may be something of an exaggeration. And, every time they increase sin taxes on tobacco, they increase the profit margin for those engaged in the underground economy.

No. I do not consider bootlegging tobacco a criminal activity. The real criminals are the politicians in Ottawa, Queen's Park and other provincial capitals across Canada who view smokers as a cash cow.

No apologies.


Anonymous said...

If we go to another State or Country and buy goods to bring back to sell at a profit we are importers and entrepreneurs.
However, if this product is tobacco related we are black marketeers and criminals !!!

The Old Rambler said...

It is strange, isn't it? I understand that many of the patriots participating in the famous (infamous) Boston Tea Party were actively engaged in smuggling (tax-free) goods, including tea, into the colonies.

Maybe 200 years down the road, I'll be recognized as a patriot too.

Anonymous said...

A very similar situation obtains here in England. The Government taxes tobacco to the hilt (and beyond), twisting the blade ever deeper with each Budget. In return for the exorbitant 'take' from smokers, the Government now is considering stopping the National Health Service from treating smoker with what is termed a 'smoking related illness' (i.e. anything at all).
The result? The ubiquitous Man-with-a-Van, the chap who makes a handsome profit selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at less than a third of the legal prices.
My Man-with-a-Van is nicknamed Tony because no-one can pronounce his real name. I haven't had a shop-bought cigarette for nearly two years now!
My apologies, but for obvious reasons I'm posting as Anonymous.

smokervoter said...

Another great post Old Rambler. It's a little bit too late to attempt to appeal to our sense of patriotic duty anymore. Citizens tend to lose it as they're kicked down the rungs by so-called polite society.

I would suggest that Mr. Higgs not continue to skip or ignore the chapter on Prohibition and a certain fellow named Capone when he reads the history books.

Michael J. McFadden said...

Re the Tea Party. I believe the Tea Party folks were going to do a demo where they would actually once again dump tea into Boston Harbor, but it got nixed when they were threatened with prosecution for water pollution.

No, I'm not kidding.