I was reading a commentary on CNN.com last week in which the writer was praising the government for considering yet another hike on tobacco taxes. This particular writer was ranting and railing about how much he hated smoking, how much people who used tobacco disgusted him with their habit, and how unhealthy he believed tobacco products were. Basically, for him higher taxes were perfectly justified for these reasons as well as to help fund our ever-growing government.
Ironically, I was in a gas station over the weekend and saw a leaflet (paid for by our friends at Atria/Phillip Morris) that decried the potential for a tax increase on tobacco, lobbying people to call their congressmen or senators and ask them to vote against higher tobacco taxes on top of last year’s $6.10 per carton increase. Obviously, another such increase would hurt their sales mightily.
I think it goes without saying that this particular leaflet, as well as the commentary, was more than slightly biased.
Nonetheless, given the rather quick turnaround between reading the commentary and reading the leaflet, I couldn’t help but start thinking about the conflict between both sides of this issue. However, it made no sense to compare the opinions of two different entities. After all, both are biased and have their own agendas. So I decided to look objectively.
The truth is that rather than defend one side over the other, I decided to defend both; not by agreeing or disagreeing with what they said, but by addressing the underlying issue that affects all of us.
On a fundamental level, I disagree with higher tobacco taxes. In fact, I disagree with higher taxes (or any taxes) because ultimately taxes use people as a means to an end. Taxes themselves are nothing more than the government taking our money under threat of harm. For example, whereas a robber may take your money because he or she will shoot you if you don’t hand it over, the government takes your money because it will put you in jail if you don’t hand it over. Taxes are nothing more than legal plunder.
Ergo, the reason I am opposed to higher tobacco taxes isn’t because I disagree with the notion that tobacco is harmful to one’s health, but rather that high taxes are harmful to everyone. If we stand by and let the government raise taxes on one portion of our population (tobacco users) just because we may not agree with them, we open the door for taxes to be raised on any other group for that same reason. Today, the targeted group is tobacco users, but who knows what tomorrow’s target de jour will be.
As members of a democratic society, we, not our government, are charged with upholding the principles of that society that we hold dear. We the people must act as a check against government actions that target specific groups just because not everyone agrees with them. We have to nip potentially undemocratic actions in the bud before they escalate to a point where they spiral out of our control. Sure maybe it’s just a little tax increase today, but what might it be tomorrow?
Each of us does things and makes choices that not everyone agrees with, and the greatest thing about America is that we have the right and liberty to do those things. However, with that enormous and blessed amount of freedom we have the responsibility to make sure that we don’t just sit idly by and let the rights of a select few get infringed or otherwise trampled upon. To me, this means defending the rights of everyone, especially those that may do things that we wouldn’t do or don’t agree with. I fear that if we just sit back and let it happen to others that we don’t like for whatever reason, it opens the door for that same thing to happen one day to us. Sooner or later, we’re all part of the minority.