When tax goes too far

The theory of higher taxes to discourage and lower taxes to encourage is a good one.

Thus higher taxes on consumption and lower taxes on income and investments are generally to be encouraged.

However, taxing the bad can go too far and it has with tobacco.

I am anti smoking to a point just short of bigotry and don’t have a problem with taxing tobacco per se.

Price increases do generally push some smokers to quit and act as a disincentive to starting which is positive.

But tobacco tax has got so high it’s incentivising crime. That doesn’t justify the thefts but the benefits of the higher price are being outweighed by the rewards of the black market and the dangers which come from that.

The campaign for a smoke-free country needs to come up with another strategy than yet another tax increase.

More help for those who want to give up including easing restrictions on vaping would be a good start.

It should also take another tack by making smoking even more difficult.

It’s already not permitted in enclosed public spaces. That could be extended to outdoor venues such as pavement cafes, parks  and beaches.

It doesn’t have to look like Nanny-statism. It could be done not to persecute smokers but simply to safeguard the right to clean air and water for the rest of us.

Environmentalists are rightly concerned about the problems of air pollution and plastic in oceans, surely cigarette smoke in the air we breathe and butts that end up in lakes, rivers and the sea are at least as much a problem.

The government won’t be altogether keen on holding or reducing the tax because the it generates a lot more revenue than smokers cost in smoking-related health problems.

But if it is really serious about the smoke-free target it has to look beyond higher taxes.

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