Why an Addiction Treatment Professional Opposes a Flat Increase in Federal Tobacco Taxes

We need to find a smarter way to tax tobacco that takes black markets into account

Among my colleagues in the public health and addiction fields, I am nearly alone in disliking President Obama’s proposed doubling of federal cigarette taxes. My reservations stem from the hard lessons of America’s policy towards illegal drugs.

So begins my op-ed in Huffington Post on why a flat increase in federal tobacco taxes is not optimal public policy. It will make black markets worse in some areas and do nothing to address cross-state smuggling. I propose an alternative which is designed to bring the states into closer parity in overall (federal + state) taxation.

My friend Harold Pollack thinks I am wrong to worry so much about black markets in tobacco when smoking after all kills 1 in 3 of those who regularly engage in it. But I see less of a conflict between promoting smoking cessation and reducing the illegal trade, as long as we are willing to invest in other methods of reducing use (e.g., free smoking cessation treatment) after taxes have hit the point of diminishing returns.