Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cost of smoking - part 2

Loyal readers may remember this post from a month ago regarding the cost of smoking to taxpayers. According to Alberta Health and Wellness Minister, Dave Hancock, smoking costs taxpayers $471-million each year for health care.

I pointed out that while I detest smoking, I would no longer harass any smoking friends I have because tobacco taxes are slated to generate $890-million in revenue this year. So, in essence, smokers are actually subsidizing my health care.

Shortly after putting up that post, I was contacted by Dr. Eric Crampton, Department of Economics, University of Canterbury (New Zealand). Dr. Crampton sent me a copy of an op-ed he wrote for the New Zealand Medical Journal.

It's a great read (if you own a dictionary - boy those professors use big words...) and Dr. Crampton has graciously posted it on-line for all of you who don't have subscriptions to the New Zealand Medical Journal to read.

Interestingly, he points out:

(S)mokers pay more in cigarette taxes than they ever cost the public purse. They die earlier of cheaper diseases and collect less in superannuation than do non-smokers.
So, I guess the government has another option to control rising health care costs - encourage smoking!

Seriously though, this is a great example of how often those who recommend using economic hammers (read: taxes) to off-set a perceived social ill, don't first determine if that social ill is creating an economic cost. Or, alternatively, they know there is no economic cost, yet still want to interfere with people's right to decide how to live their own lives.

This may be understandable if you are trying to get a loved one to quit smoking, but isn't it crossing the line when it's the government making the determination?

When did it become the government's job to ensure you make choices deemed to lengthen your life? They may be justified if the economic costs related to your decisions is harming others (read: taxpayers), but if that can be proven (as with smoking) not to be the case, what right does the government have to interfere?

Shouldn't government be held to the same test as doctors: Primum non nocere (First, do no harm)?

At the very least, before politicians and do-gooders are allowed to use economic tools (read: taxes) to fix a perceived social ill, they should ensure their cure is not causing further ills.

A prime example of this happened in Calgary recently when the surely well-intentioned Calgary Committee to End Homelessness, suggested a "meal tax" be introduced to help the homeless.

As I pointed out in an op-ed in the Calgary Herald a "meal tax" would do anything but help the homeless, as it would make their food more expensive and therefore lead to homeless people eating less.

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