By Jose B. Rivera
The New York City Council together with the Mayor Bloomberg have made law a provision which further restricts a citizen’s right to smoke. The law under the guise of protecting non-smokers from second hand smoke prohibits smokers from smoking in all public parks, beaches and prominent walkways such as Times Square. Smokers who smoke in these areas are subject to hefty fines.
But the law is really another attempt to garner money from a non vocal group of citizens who wants nothing other than to be left alone to enjoy their smokes. Although smokers pay $2,357 a year more in taxes, they are treated as second class citizens in the same public areas their extra taxes pay for. A look at how the New York City Council and Mayor treats a similar group of addicted people is quite revealing.
Criminals versus Law Abiding Citizens
New York City has had a drug problem for decades. Thousands are addicted to illegal substances. One can not help but feel for these poor souls who through bad decisions ended up being addicted to drugs such as heroine. Most do not hold a job and use illegal means to support their habits. In the late 80s and early 90s low income communities were hard hit with the violent crime wave which crack addicts brought on. Addicts exchanging unclean and uses needles were also helping to spread Aids and Hepatitis C among their population. Causing many to die young.
How did the city respond to the selling of illegal drugs, the crime wave and spreading of disease? With financial assistance from the Federal Government, the city instituted drug rehab programs from it hospitals and help to fund non-profits to do the same. Methadone was dispensed in an effort to ween addicts away from their drug habit. Many were helped out of their addiction to go on to lead better lives (though many continue to milk the system). And all this paid for by the taxpayers. To combat the spreading of Aids, hepatitis C, and other diseases, the city instituted a free needle exchange program. Teams went out (and continue to do so) and dispense free needles so that drug addicts do not share their needles and with them any diseases.
Overall, you might say that the city was quite nice to go all out for the drug addicted community. The city of New York looked to a medical/mental health approach in dealing with drug addicts. The results were mixed at best. Many use the system to continue to feed their habit, such as selling the methadone they made believed they swallowed, put in a bottle and sold to purchase real heroine. This writer has witnessed this on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue.
Compare the treatment and outreach done for drug addicts to the way smokers are portrayed and treated by the same City Of New York. Smoking is a legal activity through the whole of these United States but smokers are discriminated against.
Smokers are taxed more than non-smokers but have less rights than non-smokers. An average one pack a day smoker is charged $6.46 a pack in taxes on top of the cost of the cigarettes. $4.35 from New York State, $1.50 from New York City and 61 cents is a prepaid sales tax for a total of $6.46! This totals $2,357.90 a year in extra taxes.
What do smokers get for this extra tax added to their lawful right to smoke? Smokers get to Not Smoke out in the very public beaches and parks that their extra taxes pay for. The excuse given by elected officials is that second hand smoke is dangerous to those who do not smoke. But the problem is that no study has or will ever show that dissipated smoke in the wide open can harm anyone. Science has not supported this idea.
But the New York City elected officials who made the new prohibitions to smoking in parks and beaches do not care about the facts or the lack thereof when making policy. All they really care about is extracting as much money from smokers as possible. You will never see this City Council think about the over burdened tax payer by reigning in cost, cutting spending or slashing the budget. This group will always want more and more of Our hard earned money and there is no limit to all they wish to spend our money on. Hence the need to find groups of tax payers whom they can continually discriminate against by increasing their tax burden almost every year, i.e. smokers.
Tax on the Poor
Most people who smoke today tend to be low income and middle class. So elected officials are extracting extra taxes from the poor. That means a little less money for food, clothing or rent. The taxes on cigarettes is more than the actual cost of the cigarette. A cigarettes are now over $12 a pack. The tax paid by smokers for a months worth of cigarettes is over $193. Remember, that is just the tax, not the total cost of cigarettes. No wonder smokers are buying their smokes out in the street for $5 a pack. Who can blame them? They know the tax burden they have been made to carry has gone too far, and is discriminatory. More than any other consumer, they have been signaled out and made to pay more because those in power see an opportunity to exploit their habit for money.
Outreach to Smokers?
You will not see groups of city workers do outreach to smokers. Or hand out smoking patches, recommend therapy, refer them to smoking cessation groups or sympathize with their plight. No, as oppose to the warm fuzzy and being of service attitude that drug addicts receive smokers get a lot of vitriol hate from these elected officials. Other citizens follow suit by mimicking their elected officials and treating smokers like dirt. It is one thing to dislike what others do for instance this writer can not stand having to smell strong perfume but have never mentioned that to women or men on the train wearing it, let alone treat them any less than the human beings made in God’s image that they are.
So as you can see, smokers who are being treated as second class citizens, by having them pay a penalty for something they are within their right to do to the tune of at least $2,357.90 a year in extra taxes all for the benefit of having less access to city beaches, parks and some walkways. Whereas drug addicts who illegally buy, sell and use illegal drug and many of whom participate in illegal activities to support their habit are treated as victims by the Mayor and the New York City Council. As such they are offered a plethora of programs and medical care to help them deal with their addiction.
The Big Question
The question is why are those with an illegal addiction treated better and those with a legal addiction treated worst by the government of the city of New York? Are they not both addictions? Why does the government of the City of New York care with compassion for drug addicts in one instance but show down right hostility to smokers in the other instance? The answer has nothing to do with caring and everything to do with money. Drug addicts can not generate income for the city. Smokers do generate income.
But one has to still ask why be so cruel to the golden goose? Because the New York City Council and Mayor hate tobacco companies. And they forget that smokers are not the companies. Smokers are just consumers of what the tobacco companies sell. So they bunch smokers with the tobacco companies in an effort to punish both. A legal trade is over taxed all because the government of New York City dislikes it. If that is not discrimination, then what is?
Long term smoking is bad for your health. This writer stopped smoking over six years ago after 20 years worth of attempts. As any smoker knows, smoking it satisfying and very addictive. If you smoke it would do you nothing but good to stop. Addictions are not a thing of reason, so taxing the hell out of smokers will never get them to stop. No one stops until they are determined to stop. Just like any other addiction. But you do not see the city council adding $1.50 or $6.46 worth of tax on wine, beer, chocolates, or any other addictive consumable.
Regulatory Busy Bodies
The Mayor and City Council are also trying to begin the regulation of what we eat under the guise of healthy living. There have been efforts to regular how much salt a cooking institution can use in foods. Even if the ethnic food is and has been prepared that way for centuries. Children’s are beginning to be monitored as to what they eat for lunch. Many schools prohibit soda machines in their buildings. Kids do need to eat better, and parents need to take a good hard look at what they are feeding children. But the Mayor and New York City Council have no jurisdiction in the small decisions we all make. It is probably better to walk a mile or so a day, will the Mayor and City Council make and regulate how much walking we all do? The same goes for what we watch on TV? How much TV we watch, what we read (magazines versus books). Life can not be totally regulated. It is not a sustainable policy and will lead to its own undermining. No wonder over 1 million people have left the city and state of New York.
Smokers are hounded by the city if they attempt to purchase cigarettes online and made to pay a tax from a product purchased in another state. This is an infringement on everyone’s right to purchase products where they legally can without restriction or penalty else we do not have to right to exercise our American freedom to buy goods at the cheapest price wherever we may find it. It is as if the government is making you buy a product in store A or store B just because the government will benefit from it. This can not be legal. This is un-american and unconstitutional. It needs to be challenged. Cigarette companies need to join the fight too. They are the only companies which are prohibited from advertising their legal product on TV or magazines. Either we have the right to smoke and have it advertised or we don’t. The Foundling Fathers of this Great Nation started a revolution because of a small sales tax on tea. Here we are over two hundred years later with 1/3 of our income taxed (not profit, but income) and we are still taxed for necessities of life and cigarettes. There is a tax revolt in this country because politicians have no respect for the tax payer and no end to pet programs and the cronies they support.
The New York City Council and the Mayor are overbearing in picking on what is now an oppressed minority and using them to generate money. They are also responsible for creating an atmosphere of oppression, hostility, separation, and disgust. If you can not smoke out in the open, then where the can you smoke? There are now attempt to regulate (prohibit) smoking indoors. So if you have the right to smoke but are not allowed to, your rights are being infringed. Remember, that when institutions began banning smoking indoors they allowed their workers and clients to smoke where—- outdoors. Because we all know that smoke dissipates and harmless out in the open. Did physics change in the last few years? Smokers must demand their rights. Or they should ask ask that their portion of taxes for city and state parks be refunded since they do not have access to them.
Elected Officials Automobile Use
City council members who are supposedly so concern about the air quality need to stop using gas powered motor vehicles. One car will generate over 10,000 pounds of CO2 a year. One car is equal to 50 smokers. Will they tax themselves at all or at 50 times the cigarette tax? Will they stop using their cars? The city council is more concerned about the defenseless gnat that is cigarette smoking than the dangerous elephant which are motor vehicles. The City Council must also stop all motor vehicles from operating in other states as pollution moves from West to East. It must also regulate all those smokers in Denver, California and all the truck driving being done west of New York City so that pollution can also be stopped from entering our fair city. Of course that is not possible and would prevent food from getting to our city. And the rest of the country would be more than willing to tell the Mayor and City Council where to go. So if you are the Mayor or any City Council Member who voted this discriminatory law into effect you have to stop using gasoline powered cars or your supposed concern about public health would be exposed for what it really is. That being just another way to extract money from those whose life choices you don’t agree with. Smokers, the Easy Target For Quick Money.
Voice Your concern to your city council representative. Fight for the return of your right to shop online without being taxed. Buy cigarettes from wherever you find them legally cheaper. This writer encourages smokers to go to other states or if you have a relative or friend going to states where cigarettes cost less than in New York City to purchase cartoons and cartoons of cigarettes for you. Enough to supply you for as long as you can go before obtaining more. You have the right as an American citizen to shop where you want, even more so if the price is lower somewhere else. No different than going to lets say Virginia to buy some good furniture. You get good furniture and do not pay the 8.65% New York tax! New York City or state can not then makes you pay the difference in tax. It is none of their business and if they did they would in affect be saying you do not have the right to shop outside the state. Who would want to live in such a controlling state? Deny both the city and state this discriminatory tax. Do whatever you can to legally avoid paying the cigarette, liquor and other unfair taxes in this city and state.
The purpose here is to save Your Hard Earned Money, and to avoid paying discriminatory taxes. Contrary to what the Mayor and New York City Council members believe, it is Your Money. You can and should keep your money for your usage. It is not their money which you are “hoarding”. They have no claim on money you earn. They believe its all their money for the “general good”. Leave cigarette butts at your representatives office entrance way as a visible protest. Let them know to “Butt Out” of your legal smoking rights.
Smokers and their supporters have begun to fight back. The battle for our freedoms has just begun. Smokers are not criminals nor are they banks from which to extort money. Repeated taxing of smokers does not create less smokers, just less people who are willing to pay the extra discriminatory tax, and who then buy their cigarettes from street sellers. The City and State of New York tax smokers because they know it is a hard habit to quit and that they can generate money from them. If they actually believed that smokers would quit at the first sign of taxes they would not have bothered to create this ongoing and discriminatory tax. This is the United State of America, Not Cuba.