We & #039;re all for healthy living, but some pathways to good health need to be an educated choice, not a government mandate.

That & #039;s why we can & #039;t support an effort during Vermont & #039;s next legislative session to raise the per-pack cigarette tax by 67 cents.

Supporters of the bill say it will bring a huge influx of new tax money to the state & #039;s economically-crunched coffers. The Coalition for a Tobacco Free Vermont claims a total of $110 million over the next four years would be raised. Bill proponents also see the higher tax as a way to make cigarette use too expense for a number of smokers and prospective smokers.

Beyond the basic flaw in logic that more taxes can somehow be a good thing, supporters of the bill need to remember that tobacco use is a legal activity. It certainly is an activity that is highly dangerous to one & #039;s health, but it still is legal.

The tax is also contradictory. It is expected that $110 million could be made in four years off the tax. But what if the bill & #039;s goal to reduce the number of smokers works out better that expected? Fewer purchased packs of cigarettes mean less tax revenue and some unhappy budget crunchers in Montpelier.

But our biggest concern about the tobacco tax is the precedent it could set for greedy governments to further try to save us from ourselves, while pocketing more of our money. The coalition & #039;s latest push for the tobacco tax appeared the same day as a report issued by the U.S. Surgeon General concerning obesity in Americans.

In fact, the surgeon general & #039;s report is so grim that it predicts the obesity epidemic may soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable deaths. An estimated 300,000 deaths a year in the U.S. are associated with obesity. According to the report, the economic cost of obesity in the U.S. was $117 billion in 2000.

With figures like these, we fully expect to see a Coalition for a Fat Free Vermont lobbying for a tax designed to make french fries too expensive for overweight people or prospective overweight people.

Fortunately in Surgeon General David Satcher & #039;s obesity report, his list of solutions to dealing with the problem does not suggest taxing the problem to death. Education of the problem and greater emphasis on exercise at school, home and the workplace are keys to addressing obesity.

Likewise, the battle to reduce the health costs of tobacco use can also be fought without turning to taxing as a solution. We haven & #039;t even given Vermont & #039;s share of the country-wide tobacco settlement a chance to work yet. We & #039;ll be collecting on that settlement for years. With that money should come the educational resources necessary to bring about a long-term goal of reduced tobacco use.

Until potato chips and cigarettes go the way of alcohol at the time of prohibition, their consumption remains legal - potentially deadly, but legal. As such, said consumption should not be subjected to big government & #039;s answer to everything.


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