Cigarette Tax Burnout

Maryland is only the latest state to prove the folly of trying to finance government with a tax on a shrinking pool of smokers. In New York City and State, tobacco taxes have been raised so many times that the retail cost can exceed $9 a pack — about double the national average. Few budget-savvy smokers in the Big Apple pay that tax. Patrick Fleenor, an expert on tobacco taxes at the Tax Foundation, estimates that there is “now a 75% gap between cigarette sales in the city and cigarette consumption.” In other words, three out of four cigarettes are bought elsewhere or are contraband. Out-of-state purchases, tax-free Internet sales and a cigarette black market are booming.

In New Jersey, about 40% of the Marlboros and Virginia Slims that are lit up escape the $2.57-a-pack tax. In Washington State, evasion was so rampant that the legislature decided in 2005 to lower the 75% tax on cigars and other tobacco products as a way to raise revenue and help state retailers.

Members of Congress, please take note. Democrats are planning one more pre-election go at a $35 billion children’s health program expansion (S-chip) funded by a 61-cent per pack tobacco tax increase. They justify the new levy as a “sin tax.” OK, but if Americans don’t start sinning a whole lot more, states and Uncle Sam are going to go broke.

Wall Street Journal Editorial