By F. J. Tamel
There is no doubt that smoking affects people’s health adversely. I conquered my three-pack-a- day cigarette habit over thirty years ago, long before the cost of a pack of cigs reached seventy-five cents. Quitting was hard. I went through dozens of false starts before I was finally smoke-free. If anyone cared for my opinion, I’d tell them that it’s far better to quit because you want to, rather than quitting because you have to. I’d tell them that I personally know people with emphysema who breathe from oxygen tanks but are so addicted that they cannot last more than an hour without lighting up. Yes, smoking is a terrible habit that can lead to premature death from any number of maladies from heart disease to lung cancer. According the University of Wisconsin Tobacco Surveillance and Evaluation Program, an estimated 7,215 people die annually in Wisconsin from illnesses directly related to smoking.
I don’t know anyone who enjoys the smell of cigarette smoke wafting across their table in a good restaurant. Granted, there are some smokers who are so addicted to tobacco that they smoke while eating. But most would agree that a well ventilated non-smoking area is a boon for any eating establishment. A few weeks ago my wife and I entered a restaurant where the no smoking area was filled. So we drove to a different restaurant that had a smoke-free environment.
All that said; it is a bad idea for the State of Wisconsin to pass a smoking ban.
The State of Wisconsin squeezes $294 million in revenue each year with one of the highest tobacco taxes in America. Originally those funds were supposed to be earmarked to help reduce the cost of Wisconsin healthcare, with a portion set aside to fund an antismoking marketing campaign. But, as is the norm for Wisconsin politics, the promise of a significant reduction in healthcare costs was merely a ruse. Like gasoline taxes, which were supposed to be earmarked for road repair, but weren’t, tobacco tax revenue was put into the general fund to address Wisconsin budget shortfalls instead of reducing healthcare costs.
It has been proven that in all areas of human behavior, when the costs associated with participating in a given activity go up, the number of people who engage in that activity decreases. For example, when tax increases and supply and demand issues raised gas prices over $4.00 per gallon, the truck and SUV market in America dried up. But when gas prices plummeted late in 2008, trucks and SUVs began selling again and auto dealers’ lots were full of hybrids that nobody would buy.
The same is true for cigarette smoking. Increasing cigarette taxes along with anti-smoking legislation will cause many Wisconsinites to stop smoking. In addition a Wisconsin Smoking ban along with the punitive taxes will essentially wipe out the smoking population, replacing them with non-smokers If the state could force everyone in Wisconsin to quit the habit, we would have a $294 million hole in the revenue bucket. That hole will have to be filled with something. How about a fast food tax, which is already being considered? A beer tax? It’s coming. After all, fast food and alcohol are almost as bad for people as smoking. But far more people will be affected by those taxes than the taxes on tobacco.
In addressing the issues associated with rising healthcare costs, smoking is a boon. It’s already been stated that over 7,200 people die in Wisconsin each year from smoking related illnesses. That represents 7,200 people who won’t be using costly health services after they succumb. Let’s assume, for the sake of illustration, that all 7,200 of those people could live an average of twenty years longer if they hadn’t begun smoking. Dying people consume far fewer medical services than the people who outlive them. As people grow older, the costs of healthcare and drugs increase. After age 65, Americans qualify for Medicare, a nearly bankrupt entitlement which is buckling under the weight of baby-boomers who are entering their retirement years. Each smoking related death provides a few more breaths for Medicare before it finally dies, drained entirely of the funds that are necessary to keep it going.
When one considers rising healthcare costs, the increased burden on Medicare, and declining tax revenues, it’s easy to see that those who succumb prematurely from smoking are doing those of us who don’t smoke a favor. But most of all, it is not the responsibility of state or federal government to control the life styles of its citizens by enforcing a Wisconsin smoking ban.