Cigarettes & Health Care

President Clinton strongly hinted for the first time Thursday that he might raise tobacco taxes to finance medical benefits for all Americans.

So reported the Baltimore Sun in 19931. Back then, Clinton estimated that by 1997 it would cost between $30-$90billion to “guarantee universal access” to health care. The tax has come, and increased, and increased again, and in April the largest cigarette tax increase in history was passed, raising taxes $0.62 in one go, and another hike is scheduled to go through any day now3.

So the taxes have gone through, but where is the “guaranteed universal access”. Of course, all dreams of a Clinton-era public health care program went out the window when he was lame-ducked a good year or so early by the Lewinsky scandal. Leave it up to Republicans to convince Americans that it’s worse for their President to have oral sex than it is for them to have free, easy health care.

Cigarette taxes raise $99billion in revenue every year. Universal health care in the US would cost $1trillion.

Today, an estimated $45.3 million Americans smoke cigarettes. Since cigarettes cost $1.10 in 1994 and cost about $7.00 a pack today, it would seem that those Americans are now paying roughly $6 / pack in taxes. Do the math and that results in $99.2billion in revenue from cigarette taxation. So how does that compare to the cost of universal health care?

Well, Obama stated during the campaign that his plan involved $50-$65 billion / year to fund. Fox News claims it would cost $1.5trillion / year. The Guardian (a UK paper and in my opinion therefore neither as biased as Obama or Fox), puts the number at approximately $1trillion, right in the middle2.

So cigarette tax alone would nearly cover the cost of universal health care if it weren’t being diverted to whatever it’s been diverted to over the past 15 years. Not to mention the taxes we should be similarly imposing on alcohol, guns, driving, and marijuana, the other big causes of hospitalization and expensive deaths in this country. Well, not marijuana, I just think we should tax it because then it’ll be legal.

The bottom line is that Republicans successfully befuddled health care reform in the Clinton era by exploiting America’s love affair with a love affair, and Democrats are now successfully following in their dream party’s footsteps by bickering amongst themselves while they hold complete power. The money is there, it’s just being used for purposes it wasn’t originally designed to be used for, as confusing as it might be to discover exactly where those funds have been diverted. While this seems like statistics and numbers for the most part, what it means is that 700,000 Americans go bankrupt every year, while Congress bickered and guffawed1. Bankruptcy sucks, sure, but realize that when they’ve gone bankrupt, they have no money to continue to pay for their medical treatment. For many, that simply means they die.

Supporting Links

  1. 700,000 Americans go bankrupt every year due to lack of health insurance. PBS Frontline.
  2. Universal health care in the US would cost $1trillion. The Guardian, UK.
  3. April 2009, $0.62 tax raise on cigarettes, largest in history. USA Today.
  4. Tobacco taxes to be spent on health insurance. The Baltimore Sun.

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