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Editorial: Possible cigarette tax goes too far

Published 9:46am Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A plan to increase taxes on cigarettes by $1.60 per pack goes too far. Using tax policy as a tool of social engineering is bad enough, but the extreme tax increase proposed this week in the Minnesota Legislature would enact its ideas about social policy at the expense of small, locally owned businesses.

Let’s agree for starters that smoking is bad. It is an unpleasant habit that ought not exist. But the same can be said for many, many other things that people do and, in America, are perfectly free to do as long as they don’t injure anyone else in the process. While it is perfectly understandable that government operations must be funded with tax revenues, it is less understandable when government uses taxes to punish behavior that it does not like. It’s an elitist position that suggests certain lawmakers think they’re smarter, and know better, than the rest of us.

The cigarette tax increase has an additional demerit: It would damage small businesses in border communities such as Albert Lea. Far from reducing smoking, the gigantic tax increase would most likely lure smokers across the border. For large retailers, this does not matter; they own stores in every state. For small operators, however, driving business across the state line is a real problem. Coupled with the governor’s sales tax proposal, it is beginning to look very much like state leaders want not only to engineer people’s lifestyles, but for some incomprehensible reason to target small businesses. This makes no economic sense.

The cigarette tax bill got a hearing this week. We hope that’s the end of it. Gov. Mark Dayton has already proposed a 94 cent per pack tax hike, which strikes us as quite aggressive. Smoking is a bad habit, a deadly habit. But forcing people to live a state-approved lifestyle is the wrong use of government’s power. And enacting social theories at the expense of jobs makes it even worse.