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Smokers cough up $231 million in taxes

West Virginia University's School of Public Health released a survey showing that 60 percent of the state's residents favor increasing tobacco taxes to fund public health programs.

That's down from 72 percent support just four years ago.

The drop should be alarming to those who lobby year after year for higher taxes on people who use tobacco.

Getting people to support higher taxes on smokers should be easier to sell than water in the desert because most people don't smoke.

The survey found that of 2,132 adults surveyed, only 38 percent of the smokers wanted to pay more in taxes, while 66 percent of non-smokers favored that approach.  

Despite being a freebie for non-smokers, support for increasing tobacco taxes is falling, at least according to these two surveys.

Perhaps it is dawning on the public that it is unfair to pile taxes on smokers alone.

Tobacco users already pay $231 million a year to the state of West Virginia for the right to smoke, sniff or chew tobacco, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

To put that in perspective, that $231 million in tobacco taxes (including the tobacco settlement) is four times the revenue from the hated food tax, which ends in July after 25 years.

The decline in support for taxing smokers comes despite decades of ostracizing smoking.

The medical industry and the government have used smokers as scapegoats for the ever-escalating price of medical care.

For example, the Mayo Clinic recently calculated that smokers' annual medical costs are $1,275 above average.

"Smoking added about 20 percent a year to medical costs," James Naessens of the Mayo Clinic told Reuters.

I must take his word for it, but smokers pay for that as employers increasingly charge smokers higher premiums.

Also, state and federal cigarette taxes average $2.50 a pack. A pack-a-day smoker in the United States pays $900 a year in cigarette taxes.

And any discussion of the cost of smoking ought to include Social Security.

According to research at Oxford University, smoking shortens one's life expectancy by 10 years (again, on average).

Those 10 years come at the end of life, which shortens retirement.

Given that the average worker can expect $14,000 a year from Social Security, your average smoker is saving Social Security $140,000.

It's not as simple as all that, of course, but any discussion of the cost of something should also include the benefits - and vice versa.

To be sure, end-of-life treatment is expensive for smokers, but it is also expensive for non-smokers.

The difference is they come, on average, 10 years apart.

I do not advocate smoking. I quit, and I encourage everyone who still smokes to quit, if only to collect back what they paid into Social Security.

But smoking is a legal activity, one that provides the government with quite handsome profits.

The federal government in 2009 increased tobacco taxes by 62 cents a pack to pay for an expansion of the state Children's Health Insurance Program.

If a program truly is so wonderful and worthwhile, then everyone should pitch in to fund it, not just the scapegoats.

Surber's email is



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