Thursday, May 03, 2007

State will lose $30M on smoking ban? Isn't it still the right thing to do?

I got a kick out of this story from the SI today. It is off base.
Patrick Fleenor, chief economist at the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based educational group, said the state won't save money and will most certainly lose it.
It is hard to argue that the state will lose money on taxes in the short term, but the real question, is if society will make money over time. Will people be more productive, will the total costs be lower, will the revenue be higher because of the smoking ban. The estimate from the article has the state being off $30M next year on tobacco tax revenue.

I'm surprised that anyone is willing to argue that the state should be worried about such a small part of their income, without talking about how much money will be saved over time. How much do the illnesses caused by smoking cost anyway? If you don't have 60 people dieing of lung cancer, how much money does society save? If you were talking about 10% of the state budget, it is easier to justify worrying about short term consequences.

You can justify almost anything, if you count only the very shortest term costs. For example, you should never stop at traffic lights, because they just slow you down. But, the cost of not stopping it so high, most everyone has figured out, that stopping at a red light is in their best interest.

I don't like this article and I don't think the argument used to attack the statewide smoking ban is sound. You have to wonder if this "expert" really feels this way or if a reporter didn't dig into the position far enough.

Anyone brave enough to dig into our "expert's" Think Tank's website and see if the reporter blew it or if the expert is full of it?


Kyle Raccio said...

The idea that these businesses are going to go bankrupt because someone wants to smoke is laughable, at least in the short term.

But I highly doubt these people will just give up going out to lunch at their favorite pizza or french fry place because they can't smoke.

I hope that the ban is going to deter restaurant goers from smoking in general, not just in public places. In my view there is no excuse for ANYONE smoking now...considering that the health risks are so well-known throughout the public.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Hi Kyle -

I think we know that if Carbondale passes a ban that the total restaurant and bar revenue will go down. We know that because of what has happened in other Midwestern cities that have put in a ban.

Now if the whole state goes smoke free, on the coasts they saw restaurant and bar revenue go up. That is more likely a win.

When you start changing the traffic patterns by passing laws, I think it is likely we would see short term bankruptcies as the result. Longer term things should stabilize again, no matter what happens. Some of the players might be different though.

Your idea about ANYONE smoking isn't a realistic view of the world. It is easy to write and I kind of know where you are coming from, but come on. Seems like the battle cry of a young and idealistic dude.

Anonymous said...

Actuarily speaking, we would probably be better off if cigarettes were provided by the government to the citizens.

If life expectancy were to continue to increase, the costs to society for programs such as 'aid to dependent seniors', 'free health care to seniors', and whatever other program(s) the socialists want to initiate, will be altogether too much of a burden for my children to bear.

Supporting the lifelong healthcare of a group of people (smokers) that has already indicated that they could care less about their health, is going to be a cost that I am not too interested in paying.

cynical prof said...

While it may be a shame to lose the revenues, on the other hand, should the government be in charge of deciding what risks people should take? And besides, a tax on smoking is highly regressive, falling mostly on the poor.

Peter in Carbondale said...

In general, I don't think the government shouldn't decide what risks people take. But the main reason to ban smoking in public places is to stop smokers from exposing others to risks, via second hand smoke.

If you want to kill yourself from your choices, that is OK with me. If you want to kill others, that is a problem the government should prevent.