Wages Of Sin (Taxes) - A Boost For Smoking Cessation Tools

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The American Council on Science and Health has led the nation in efforts to stop people from smoking so it's no surprise we have embraced patches, gums, e-cigarettes and products like "snus" made in Sweden as ways to ease people off of cigarettes, because they replace nicotine. Smoking kills but it is the nicotine that makes people want to smoke.

Sweden has long understood this. Their desire for membership in the European Union came to a hard stop when the EU tried to tell them that snus was a harmful tobacco product like cigarettes and should be banned. Not so, they said, it is a harm reduction tool. And they were correct. The rest of the EU has 300 percent of the tobacco deaths of Sweden because because only 13 percent of Swedes smoke.

Many use snus instead. What did Sweden get right in making that switch? Well, the writing was on the wall regarding harm of cigarettes, and that is something the Council has said since 1978. Writing in the New York Times, Joe Nocera argues that the other half of the equation was "sin" taxes. As cigarettes became more expensive in Sweden, alternatives made more sense. Since they were harm reduction tools, they were not penalized the same way, even if they had nicotine.

What keeps America from doing the same? Two things. An entire marketing industry is now made up of people who create anti-smoking campaigns, and that money is coming from cigarette companies. And government continues to raise taxes on cigarettes to offset the cost of social programs, which means states can never get serious about stopping cigarette use.

Then there is the cultural issue. Somehow gums and patches, which are made by Big Pharma, get a free pass when it comes to being viewed as a harm reduction tool, while an e-cigarette is considered tobacco. None of them are tobacco. Snus actually is tobacco but has been a terrific success in causing deaths from tobacco to plummet. The World Health Tobacco wants to go after all tobacco products so if e-cigarettes are framed as such, a powerful harm reduction tool would be penalized to the detriment of smokers and the health system.

Are sin taxes necessarily the way to go? There was no real benefit to taxing beards, but that was once done, and when England taxed tea in America it went quite badly for them, but if there is real evidence that taxes on cigarettes would replicate the Swedish model, it is worth considering.