Mimesis Law
8 August 2020

Good Intentions Go Up In Smoke

Mar. 14, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — In doing some research, I came across a report prepared by the New York State Department of Health.  In June, 2008, the state doubled the excise tax on cigarettes, those lawful burning sticks that everyone despises.  The reason was simply stated:

These actions have the potential to appreciably reduce cigarette use and increase tax revenues to the state.

A double-bagger, better health for all plus cash in the state bank. What’s not to like?  The reality, perhaps.

Cigarette purchases that avoid taxes decrease potential revenues to the state by between $467.5 million and $612.8 million per year and undermine the public health benefits of the cigarette tax increase.

In the year since the tax increase, from June 2008 to May 2009, cigarette excise tax revenues collected by New York rose 54%, to $1.31 billion, while tax-paid cigarette sales decreased 22.8%.

No significant increase in quit intentions or quit attempts has been noted since the June 2008 tax increase.

In other words, it didn’t work.  At least not the way everyone assumed it would.  The state ended up with higher tax revenues, though not nearly as much as they thought they would. In the meantime, businesses that sold cigarettes in the state suffered a substantial decline in revenues.  And smokers kept on smoking.

The key to the last piece is that this was a doubling of an earlier onerous imposition of excise tax on cigarettes.  The first time out of the box, the excise tax rid the ranks of smokers of those who were price-sensitive.  But once they were gone, further increases made no significant difference.

What it did was drive business to the Internets.  What it did was drive business away from legitimate brick and mortar businesses in the state who were struggling to survive the recession.  What it did was . . . not what people thought it would.

Among the fixes growing out of this realization was the Internet business killing the state’s ability to micromanage its citizens.  Worse still, it was turning those citizens into tax scofflaws, buying untaxed cigarettes online at a fraction of what they cost in state, and in contravention of laws requiring citizens to pay use tax on untaxed purchases.  This made a lot of people into instant quasi-criminals, even though they may not have known (as most people don’t) that they are obliged to pay taxes if a seller doesn’t.

Did New York recognize the error of its theory?  Well, of course not. Instead, they looked to yet another tweak that would provide the solution that eluded the state:

Finally, the July 2010 implementation of the federal Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act should effectively eliminate the sale of untaxed tobacco products over the Internet. Based on the findings of this report, it is clear that enforcing these new policies to reduce tax evasion is critical for New York to realize the full public health benefits of the 2008 and 2010 tobacco tax increases.

Just one more, one . . . itty . . .  bitty . . . thing more, and then we will achieve the Nirvana of a smokeless society.  And here we are, 2015, and people still smoke, and pretty much with the same prevalence as before.

Now you probably think this is all a prelude to other, similarly well-intended by ineffective, or more accurately, counter-productive efforts to achieve the Perfect Society, like, say, legalizing marijuana.   But then, I would engage in such a facile transition given your sophistication, not to mention the well-documented evidence of what weed does to youthful chastity.  Oh no, never.

But it does compel me to think like a Freak, eschewing inherent bias with its banal connections between cause and effect, and instead taking a fresh look and trying to figure out ways to make gardens weed themselves.

The theory underlying New York’s attempt to rid itself of demon tobacco and earn a few bucks in the process made enormous sense and was utterly misguided and counterproductive.  Ironically, it did make internet cigarette sellers pretty happy, as every time the state upped its excise tax, they could increase their prices, still come in miles below legitimate sellers and pocket the difference.

Kinda like drug dealers, except I would never go there, because it would be wrong.

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  • jack
    15 March 2015 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    James Enstrom wins
    When I was in Australia last year, I cited John Snow, Katherine Flegal, James Enstrom and the authors of the ‘Australian paradox’ study as victims of groupthink for having arrived at scientific conclusions that contradicted ‘public health’ dogma (article here, video here).

    Of the four, James Enstrom got the worst treatment. He produced research that challenged not one, but two, political agendas. Not only was he the co-author of a study that found no association between secondhand smoke and lung cancer and heart disease in 2003, but he also found that the threshold of risk from diesel particulate matter was considerably higher than the Californian Environmental Protection Agency assumed when it introduced punitive restrictions on vehicle pollution.

    A number of studies have supported Enstrom’s findings, but Cal-EPA ignored them in favour of a study conducted by Dr Hien T. Tran which happened to find a serious risk from the very thing Cal-EPA wanted to ban. However, as Enstrom discovered, “Dr.” Tran had bought his PhD from an online University for $1,000. Although Cal-EPA eventually accepted this, Enstrom was sacked by UCLA because—in the university’s own words—his research was “not aligned with the academic mission of the Department”.

    Enstrom has been appealing his dismissal for the last few years.

    Dr. Enstrom not only blew the whistle on junk science driving recent proposed California diesel emissions restrictions, he discovered the state’s lead “scientist” had purchased his degree from a fictitious “Thornhill University” and that many members of the state’s Scientific Review Panel had overstayed term limits by decades. While the fake scientist received only a short suspension after Dr. Enstrom discovered his fraud, UCLA not only fired Dr. Enstrom, it also looted his research account of tens of thousands of dollars and failed to pay him any salary for more than a year.

    I’m delighted to see that Enstrom has finally prevailed…

    Not only did the Regents agree to pay Dr. Enstrom $140,000, but they also have effectively rescinded the termination, agreeing to Dr. Enstrom’s use of the title “Retired Researcher” (as opposed to acknowledgment as a non-titled terminated employee) and his continued access to UCLA resources he previously enjoyed during his appointment.

    This is a significant victory for academic freedom and the fight against policy-based evidence, as David French from the American Center for Law and Justice explains:

    Dr. Enstrom’s victory comes at a critical time, reminding the public that the scientific establishment is hardly infallible. Indeed, it’s subject to all the same failings as any human institution, including greed, corruption, and bias. It’s worth remembering as the House once again takes up the Secret Science Reform Act, a bill that would render the EPA more transparent by requiring it to make available for public review the “scientific and technical information used in it’s assessments.”

    It shouldn’t take an act of job-risking courage to bring transparency and honesty to science, but in the Leftist-dominated academy, dissent from progressive orthodoxy is seen as toxic, instead of patriotic. Here’s hoping that with more victories like Dr. Enstrom’s (and Dr. Mike Adams’s jury verdict last year), universities will learn that censorship is expensive. Protecting academic freedom may lead to less scientific “consensus,” but it will certainly lead to greater integrity.

    It’s nice to report a bit of good news for a change. More details here and here.


  • jack
    15 March 2015 at 12:25 pm - Reply
  • jack
    15 March 2015 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    Manufacturing the science to meet the agenda, in black on white. Does anyone still have doubts?

    ”Bal laughs when asked about the role of scientific evidence in guiding policy decisions. “There was no science on how to do a community intervention on something of this global dimension,” he says. “Where there is no science, you have to go and be venturesome—you can’t use the paucity of science as an excuse to do nothing. We created the science, we did the interventions and then all the scientists came in behind us and analyzed what we did.”

    Read under the title :
    Tobacco Control: The Long War—When the Evidence Has to Be Created