Lileks: Make smokers pay for it all ...

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2013 - 5:16 PM

The governor proposed filling the stadium-funding gap with cigarette revenue, which has become magic tax-spackle you can use to plug in any holes in any budget.

So why not fund everything with cigarette taxes? Rather than burden individuals and businesses with a million little fees, just shift everything to smokers. There aren’t enough people puffing, you say? Alas, it’s so. So:

1. The state will mandate smoking, but it’s a “temporary” measure and will be “sunsetted” at some point, after which anyone who’s hooked can quit anytime, maybe after the holidays when it’s less stressful. Or:

2. We’ll raise the price of a pack to $297.94. Studies show that many smokers say they’ll really seriously completely totally think about quitting maybe if the price hits $300 a pack, although when pressed they admit they’d probably just cut back, except for weekends.

But smoking costs the state money because of the health care costs, right? Right. So make it $327.43 per pack. However, smokers can deduct $27.44 per pack on their income taxes — provided they keep the butts in case they’re ever audited.

Cigarettes could even be color-coded to let smokers know what their money’s going for: This purple one pays for the stadium, these four yellow smokes pay for education, this green one’s for transit, and so on.

Of course, this means that years of stigmatizing smokers will have to be reversed and replaced with public acclaim. Smokers will stride into the convenience store, go right to the SMOKERS EXPRESS lane — which has a little velvet rope and a bouncer in a tux who waves them through — and they’ll point to their brand and count out the 20s with great show, so everyone knows who’s funding things around here.

The smoker thinks:

“It’s not like the old days, when 65 cents got you a pack of nails out of a machine at the Embers, but at least I’m respected. I may be regarded as a cash cow for the state, but it’s all out in the open now, and they won’t keep slipping in incremental tax hikes, assuming I’ll just grin and bear it. We have an understanding. I ...

“Hey, what do you mean there’s a new $90 license fee for Bic lighters?”

 

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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