In the Bible Belt, Alabama politicians look to tax “sin” and spend
We already have some of the highest alcohol taxes in the nation, but some politicians in the state seem to think there’s room to grab more money on tobacco, electronic cigarettes and sugary drinks.
Social pressures associated with using alcohol and tobacco products often mean that people paying these high taxes rarely mount the opposition we’d see with a similar sales or income tax hikes across the board.
Most people in the South understand the politics of “sin taxes.” If you don’t, just look up the litany of jokes about stopping a Baptist from drinking your beer.
Consuming alcohol in excess isn’t healthy, and neither is smoking like a chimney. But before we start piling on our traditional “sin” targets, think about where this is going.
That sweet tea you’re drinking like it’s going out of style is a potential highway to diabetes…delicious, refreshing diabetes. The same goes for cheeseburgers and french fries. Munching on candy every day has serious consequences, and we all know that a sedentary life in front of the television can lead to obesity.
We’d go nuts if politicians put a 25-cent tax on super-sizing our combo meals or increased our cable bill for watching too many hours of television. Let’s not even think about the violence that would ensue if we proposed a peach cobbler tax.
Yet some politicians want to head down the slippery slope of “sin taxes.” They’re willing to take the political hit for increasing taxes because they’re allegedly concerned about public health.
Let’s test that theory.
If “sin taxes” are really more about improving health than politically shrewd money grabs, there should be some rational correlation between the harm the targeted products impose on the public and the assessed tax.
Consider Governor Bentley’s interest in increasing the tax on tobacco cigarettes and imposing a new one on vapor products.
Vapor products like electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine without the tar and many other chemicals contained in traditional cigarettes. These certainly aren’t products for children, but they seem to be a step in a better direction in terms of health consequences for people who smoke. If the “sin tax” on tobacco is really about reducing the harmful impacts of smoking, we should see the vapor product tax proportionally lower than that imposed on traditional cigarettes to incentivize less harmful behavior.
In fact, we see the opposite. Alabama politicians first seek to raise the tax on cigarettes which haven’t become any more harmful to the public as the number of smokers decreases. At the same time, they’re also pushing proposals intended to impose a radically higher a tax on vapor products than tobacco cigarettes. It simply doesn’t make any sense.
But this isn’t about health; it’s about many of our politicians wanting to spend more money than they have. They’re willing to grab money wherever they can find it, and frankly they don’t care where it comes from.
We might live in the Bible Belt, but tax and spend is the same even if you’re targeting “sin.”