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.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

4 thoughts on “Why an Addiction Treatment Professional Opposes a Flat Increase in Federal Tobacco Taxes”

  1. Given the way that the numbers have grown over the last 15 or so years, pretty soon tobacco will kill every one who even talks about it, much less actually smokes, and 25th hand smoke will turn out to be responsible for global warming.

    This from someone who quit 25 years ago, and is very nearly violently anti-smoking.

  2. Since I’ve heretofore only commented in opposition, I support your position 100%. great op-ed

  3. Don’t a majority of the Supremes now think federal nudges to states are incompatible with their “equal sovereignty” or something that the Founders meant to put in the Constitution even if they didn’t get round to it?

  4. I thought the whole point of getting involved in the illicit drug biz was so you can add a huge markup. This doesn’t seem to be the case with tobacco (where goal appears to be sell cigarettes for less).

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