How to deal with the smoking "problem"Among the myriad of laws-most of which are unnecessary-which took effect yesterday in the State of Tennessee was the Governor's tax increase on a pack of cigarettes. The Governor and his minions on the Hill tell us that this tax increase will help increase funding for education, but it is obvious that it is an attempt at State-sponsored social engineering to encourage citizens to quit smoking. I think that this is obvious considering that a workplace smoking ban, which will make lighting up in most places except bars, nursing homes, and a few other exceptions a criminal act, takes effect October 1st.
Even as I write this, a black market in cigarettes is already developing. I have talked to truckers who have told me that they intend to get cases of cigarettes in North Carolina, bring them into Tennessee, and mark them up enough to make a profit. They will sell them at a price substantially lower than what consumers are paying today. A massive chunk of this State's population lives within a short driving distance of the border with States where the tobacco tax is substantially lower and the savings would be worth the gas money-people will cross the border to buy their cigarettes if they do not buy smuggled smokes, and if they do the latter there is utterly nothing the State can do (it will be nigh impossible to stop smugglers as it is).
If the State is concerned about Tennesseans lighting up, there is something that could have been done without a Statewide public ban and without a tax increase. We have an insurance program in this State that is essentially TennCare Light-Cover Tennessee. Under that program, Tennesseans without ordinary insurance coverage through their work can be covered, and usually all they have to pay on their end is about $50 a month. As today's Tennessean points out, nearly 40% of all enrollees in Cover Tennessee are smokers. The State insists, however, that the premiums being charged are high enough to cover the State from the financial risk of covering all of those people, an argument that I don't buy in the least.
Rather than a massive tax increase that people can avoid by crossing the border or buying smokes on the black market, or enacting a smoking ban that will likely be selectively enforced from place to place, an easy way to cut down on smokers would have been for the State to say that smokers are not eligible for health coverage with Cover Tennessee. Many insurance companies will no longer insure smokers, and doubtless some of these folks are making their way to the State rolls. There is also the reality that many of the folks who qualify for Cover Tennessee are more likely to be smokers, as those of modest means are more likely to light up. Since the State is paying for Cover Tennessee, the State should be able to say who can and who cannot be covered. Removing smokers from the list of persons eligible for coverage would have a substantial impact on the number of smokers, because then smokers won't be able to get health coverage much of anywhere.
Of course the General Assembly didn't bother doing that, they just passed excessive taxes that won't be earmarked for their intended purpose and unenforcable bans so that they could "feel good" about what they view as the smoking "problem."
Labels: Tennessee politics