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January 12. 2013 8:37PM

Another View -- John F.J. Sullivan: NH should not punish smokers with high taxes

Even the most hardcore cigarette smokers acknowledge they are in the grip of a filthy, destructive addiction, yet they can take grim solace that their habit, via the state's power to levy so-called sin taxes, helps bankroll social programs, including education.

In 2011, Republican leaders in Concord cut the tobacco tax by 10 cents. They touted it as a way to increase state revenues by stimulating cross-border sales, but revenues fell far below projections. Figures from the state Department of Administrative Services showed a $20 million drop in tobacco tax revenues between fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

In our Jan. 3 Question of the Day to the Live Free or Die Alliance's 11,300 Facebook fans, we referred to Gov. Maggie Hassan's Jan. 2 inauguration speech, in which she said, "Cutting state support for public education in half while lowering the tobacco tax two years ago was short-sighted. . We must begin to reverse course." We then asked: "Would you support raising the state tobacco tax back to its pre-2011 rate to help fund public education?"

As of Jan. 7, we received 406 responses, including 186 concurrences (or "likes," in Facebook parlance), 25 people sharing the question with their own followers and 220 comments from 170 respondents. Of those respondents, 36 percent favored reinstating the 10 cents cut previously from the cigarette tax while 54 percent expressed opinions against doing so. The remaining 10 percent of comments were nonresponsive to the question.

Of interest, women comprised about 50 percent of the respondents who favored reversing the tax cut on tobacco, but slightly less than 20 percent of those who opposed it.

Among the sentiments representative of those seeking to reinstate the full tobacco taxation levels was one woman's comment: "People who cost the public health system more money should be taxed more!"

On the other hand, those objecting to reversing the cut included one frequent (and male) respondent, who said: "Do not fund anything on the backs of addicts. It's appalling and immoral."

The aforementioned findings are not the results of a scientific survey, but more akin to citizen testimony, where respondents are (to the greatest extent possible) identifiable by their real names. As New Hampshire's Town Hall, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Live Free or Die Alliance is free and open to all, offering a unique and important mechanism for more than 11,000 community members to express their views.

Elected officials and other public policy decision-makers are necessarily impelled by their own judgment and philosophy, but ascertaining the thinking of New Hampshire citizens is prudent as well as essential to a functional republic. In the matter of the tobacco tax, the sentiment of the citizens who follow the LFDA on Facebook is unmistakable: Though virtually no one imagines cigarette smoking to be a good idea, a considerable majority finds taxing cigarettes equally abhorrent.

John F.J. Sullivan is editor-in-chief of the Live Free or Die Alliance (nhlfda.org).

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