Posted Under: Minorities,Puritanism
Action on Smoking and Health have become something of a fixture in the discussion of public health. A group which seeks to ‘eliminate’ the harm cause by tobacco, they seem to have a talent for getting heard and getting listened to.
So I was more than a little concerned to find that as the budget approaches, ASH are pushing for another above-inflation increase in the smoking tax. First off, two points need to be made:
1) Most of us know that the smoking tax is regressive, but fewer realise quite how hard it hits the poorest people in society. In 2007 the poorest 20 per cent of households spent a whopping 3.4% of their income just paying tobacco tax.
2) Smokers more than pay for the cost to the NHS. By most estimates smoking costs the NHS £1.5 billion. Smoking tax raises £7 billion.
Nonetheless, ASH want to raise the tax further. Are these people going around with their eyes closed? Are they not aware that the poor are now bearing the brunt of the biggest crisis for decades? Have they not noticed that nearly 2,000,000 people are now trying to get by without work?
Interestingly they do, in their 2008 submission to the chancellor of the Exchequer, acknowledge that the smoking tax is ‘strongly regressive’. They say however that this dilemma can ‘be resolved by making the greatest possible efforts to motivate and assist smokers to quit.’ Put another way, their approach is this:
We want a comprehensive effort to push smokers into quitting. Those smokers who co-operate, and who adjust their lifestyle in the way we think they should will be fine. Those who persist in smoking can go to hell.
They note that public opinion favours a rise in tobacco tax. This is hardly surprising: the vast majority of people do not smoke, but nonetheless benefit from the tax smokers pay. It is hardly remarkable that a majority can be brought round to the idea of milking a minority.
Most shockingly, they seem to see this distortion of government finances as something to be happy about. Increasing the smoking tax, they say, ‘raises revenue for the Treasury – reducing the need for taxes on jobs and investment.’ In other words it is a bloody good thing that corporation tax and income tax – both of which fall primarily on the better off – can be reduced at the expense of a relatively worse off minority.