Increasing tobacco taxes will put everyone at risk

The only thing needed to start a crime wave is make it difficult for addicts to satisfy their needs. Prohibiting alcohol in the 1920s or enacting dumb laws to deter drug use never have worked. They only serve to fuel a black market.

The result: organized crime, continuous violence, overstuffed prisons and billions of tax dollars wasted. Addiction is not a crime but a disease that needs to be treated and/or prevented. People who cannot, or will not, endure the treatment process continue the use of the addictive substance.

While cigarettes are legal, government forces everywhere are imposing higher taxes on smokers, making it more difficult for low-income addicts to access the drug called nicotine.

Florida smokers are now paying another dollar per pack, on top of the 62 percent federal increase earlier this year. Nonsmokers have no sympathy, thinking the higher tax will cause some to quit. Most won’t. Not because of taxes, anyway.

Just like alcohol, cocaine and heroin, nicotine is a dependency substance. As a recovering four-pack-a-day addict, I can attest to the power of nicotine and the determination I once had to keep smoking no matter the social and cost negatives.

As a younger person, I might well have bought black- market cigarettes at prices that could be afforded. Paying $3 a pack, compared to $6 and $8, would have a significant impact on a personal budget.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, more than 700 new cases of illicit cigarette trafficking have been opened in the last five years. In New York City, smokers are expected to pay $9 a pack. It’s only a matter of time before the smugglers will become as much a target of law enforcement as cocaine traffickers.

Meanwhile, users will continue to light up. Canada is also dealing with cigarette crime. In May, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized nearly two million cigarettes near the Ontario/Manitoba border. During National Road Safety week along the Trans Canada Highway, officers seized 150 cases of illegal cigarettes.

Years ago, when Canada raised taxes on cigarettes, retail sales dropped as clandestine boats arrived at St. Lawrence River docks with thousands of cartons obtained from Indian reservations.

If the trends continue, much of the money gleaned from taxation is going to be absorbed in the criminal justice system. It’s important to discourage smoking and reduce the associated diseases, but it must be done through education and changed perceptions, particularly among teenagers, where the smoking habits usually begin.

Health issues should be as much a part of the learning process for kids as math and science are. If students in elementary and middle schools were exposed to the real dangers of smoking — minus boring statistics — it would make a difference as they mature.

Show 10-year-olds cold, hard videos of true-life people suffering from long-term emphysema, cancer and heart disease, or with their tongues and larynxes removed, and explain there’s a high probability they will end up the same if they become addicted to nicotine.

We need to attack the roots of the tree, not just hack off the limbs.

Frank is a former Miami police detective who lives in Melbourne.

BY Marshall Frank
Monday, August 17, 2009

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