Monday, July 02, 2007

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."



At Monday, July 02, 2007 3:23:00 PM, Blogger DigiHairshirt said...


With your proposed solution, am I right to assume that if a person is denied coverage with TennCare because they are a smoker, that there would still be some way for dependents (i.e., children) to be covered? I am not familiar (yet) with TennCare but I know under Blue Cross of CA, there is a family plan under which the parent is the primary covered. Of course, we also have "Healthy Kids" for low income, children-only coverage.

I remember when California enacted the smoking ban. There was much gnashing of teeth and wailing of doom, with restaurants and bars screaming how this would put them out of business, surely . . . and in the end, the effect was nothing. In fact, many "smoking" patrons would tell you that they enjoy sitting ina smoke-free environment and don't mind ducking out for the quick cigarette or staying on the "smoking patio." Employees like it not only because they too enjoy the atmosphere, but clean-up is reduced.

I am pleased about the smoking ban - as for the taxes, well, I don't like any unnecessary taxing, especially "sin" taxes. As for me and my family, alas, it appears when we move to TN, poor old Mom will have to cop some black-market smokes . . .

BTW, our house is going into escrow today - we could be in TN by the beginning of August! What do you know about Sacred Heart Cathedral and School?

At Monday, July 02, 2007 4:13:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

Ms. Stephanie;
The important thing to remember is that TennCare as it existed before no longer exists-the Bureau of TennCare really only administers basic Medicaid now.

Cover Tennessee is the program that was designed as the "safety net" for people who would have been eligible for TennCare under the McWherter system but are not any longer. If your employer doesn't offer coverage or you can't get it elsewhere, you can purchase coverage from the State through Cover Tennessee-I propose that smokers not be covered. As to their children, I would presume children would be coverable-but I would be willing to let the legislature iron out the details of how that might work.

As for the ban-other than the obvious factor of government interference in private business (which is bad), I oppose it because outside the big cities it is unenforceable, and a majority of our population still lives outside large cities.

Nobody will enforce the ban here in White Pine. It is a law that is absolutely worthless here.

I'll tell you about Sacred Heart a little later-probably tomorrow-I have to run!

At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 12:52:00 AM, Blogger Matt Daley said...


I do not know if disallowing smokers from being covered by state insurance is such a good idea.

When you allow the state (or insurance companies) to start denying coverage based on specific risks, you're starting down a very dangerous slippery slope.

Would the state also be able to disallow those who drink alcoholic beverages? What about those who are overweight and/or eat fatty foods?

Worse yet, such disallowances would open the door for the state and insurance companies to stop covering (or restrict coverage of) people with disabilities. Would you want to be denied coverage because you may require more medical care than someone else? I know that I would not want that.

I applaud you for standing up and voicing your opinion against sin taxes and smoking bans. I agree with you there.

I just don't happen to believe that restricting available insurance coverage is a good alternative.


At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 11:57:00 AM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

Remember that this is the taxpayers footing the bill here, not a regular insurance company. It is by the good graces of the taxpayers that there is any coverage at all.

At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 1:56:00 PM, Blogger Matt Daley said...


I understand that. But...

1) Do you really trust the government to only deny coverage to smokers? I don't; especially if it's one controlled by the Party Opposite.

2) If government starts denying coverage for issues like smoking, insurance companies are going to immediately jump on that bandwagon. And if government is doing it, how in the world could they justify telling insurance companies not to do the same?


At Tuesday, July 03, 2007 2:53:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

Insurance companies are already doing it...


Post a Comment

<< Home

Locations of visitors to this page
Profile Visitor Map - Click to view visits
Create your own visitor map