How Cigarette Money Exerts its Power in our Society

United States cigarette taxation rates / Contributed Photo

There has been a theory posed by psychologists that the human brain cannot really visualize numbers greater than twenty. When I tell you that the US government made $12.9 billion in cigarette tax in 2019, can you see that number?

For every pack of cigarettes sold in the United States of America, the government receives about $1.70. Tax attributes, on average, 44% of the cost of a pack of cigarettes. Comparatively, the average sales tax is 7.12%. This feels almost like a hoax, or as if something is being pulled over our eyes. The way that our government handles cigarette tax appears to be the epitome of hypocrisy. According to the CDC, the substance causes 7 million worldwide deaths a year (and one of every five deaths in the United States). It is an outrage that politicians who claim to have our best interests at heart would profit from this corporate exploitation of public health.

The argument presented by our government was that a higher cigarette tax rate would, overall, lower smoking rates. If cigarettes cost more money, and put more financial pressure on the buyers, perhaps they would simply buy less. However, nicotine is so dangerously addictive, financial loss is an acceptable sacrifice for many smokers. In most low-income households, raising the tax on smoking will not lower the rate of smoking. New York State Department of Health conducted a study that revealed that low-income families spend almost a quarter of their yearly income on cigarettes. Clearly, these people are already willing to feed a huge portion of their money to the tobacco industry. Increasing the price of cigarettes per pack by barely a dollar will not impact them.

Cigarette companies push their influence on public policy in many ways, chiefly through financially backing political candidates. Millions of dollars are spent every year by tobacco companies endorsing political candidates. They donate directly to political parties and candidates, and to public services, all to lobby favor for lenient policies on smoking. Six out of every ten people in the U.S. congress have accepted donations from tobacco companies, and the influence of this is seen clearly when it comes to cigarette regulation.

The government does much in the name of public health, such as New York city banning 32-ounce sodas to ward off obesity, but no such moves have been made to regulate or ban cigarettes, the highest cause of preventable death in the United States. Gambling was banned in the United States for many reasons, one of which being that gambling was addictive and it was too easy to lose massive amounts of money on it. The decision was also pinned on the fact that gambling addictions often disproportionately affect the poor. Both facts are overwhelmingly true for cigarettes as well as gambling, and yet tobacco products are much less policed. Another fact worth noting is that cigarettes, if legal, are easily taxable. Gambling, however, is not. Money would change hands and all the possible tax revenue would slip through the fingers of the government. This is well worth pondering. It makes you wonder, are our politicians really doing everything they can for the sake of our public health?