Why Taxing the Hell out of Smokers Won't Hurt Washington

Thanks to a $1-a-pack increase back in April, Washington now has the second highest state tax load on cigarettes in the country, behind only Rhode Island. When lawmakers introduce new sin taxes, they always like to talk about how they're doing smokers a favor, encouraging them to quit by making their nicotine habit an expensive one. Pragmatists worry that the higher taxes will encourage smokers to drive into neighboring states or pursue less legal means to get their fix. But both groups underestimate two important things about smokers: they're simultaneously lazy and hopeful.

That's the conclusion come to by James Ledbetter in an article where he tried to understand why cig fiends tolerate higher taxes. As he points out, a smoker in Eastern Washington drive to Idaho and have enough money to buy a pack of gum and a roll of breath mints to mask his bad breath. But studies show that most smokers are only willing to travel 2.7 miles to save a buck, so convenience trumps cost.

Smokers are also a hopeful lot, something you no doubt know if you're one of them or know one of them. Ledbetter points out that at any given moment a majority of smokers say they're thinking about quitting. Because of this, most smokers feed the addiction a pack at a time, rather than buying cartons.

So why is it OK to continue taxing the hell out of smokers in Washington? Because there just aren't enough honest-with-themselves, bargain-hunting, carton-hoarding emphysema-cases out there to make a difference.

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