After two vetoes by former President George W. Bush, President Obama authorized a big tobacco tax hike within days of taking office nearly four years ago. The per-pack tax shot up from 39 cents to $1.01 on April 1, 2009.
The result was a drop in the number of smokers. There were 3 million fewer smokers in 2011, compared to 2009, the CDC found. Those who quit tended to be teens, the poor and people dependent on government health insurance. Never have more lives been saved by the stroke of a pen.
"Taxes are the sledge hammer of anti-smoking efforts," proclaimed USA Today, in response to the CDC findings. I couldn't agree more. So let's hit smokers yet again with higher group health premiums.
Well done, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which recently added a $2,000-a-year insurance surcharge on smokers on the grounds that they use more health services. Other surveys show an increase in the number of companies willing to impose penalties on people with nasty habits.
Critics of smoker premiums warn of employers discriminating against unhealthy employees, and of punitive measures that go too far.
Who else next gets hammered with surchages? The overweight receptionist? The young summer intern drinking a 'Big Gulp'? The loading-dock laborer stuffing his face with gooey cheese nachos? The fast-track vice president with a penchant for booze?
Sticky issues all, for sure, but it's worth discussing, let alone to remind employees that there's no free ride.
October 11, 2012
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