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Column: Time to overtax someone else

As July comes to a close, it marks the first month of the state of Minnesota’s latest tax overburdening of the small demographic that are smokers - this time to pay debt on the new Vikings stadium.

Center of Disease Control estimates from 2011 state 21.6 percent of men and 16.5 percent of women smoke. Count me among them and stop telling me to quit. I won’t and I’m OK with that. You should be, too.

Smokers have been beaten nearly to the death of communal patience with anti-tobacco marketing, the banning from restaurants and bars, 25-feet minimum distances from doorways on college campuses, etc.

I’m going to speak for my little group now.

A hypothetical: what if a buck-and-a-half tax were suddenly levied on a six-pack of beer, or Happy Meals, or what about this idea: Vikings ticket prices?

Complaining would commence.

It has become far too popular to bail out pecuniary conundrums at the state and federal level by simply passing legislation that affects smokers only. I, for one, am sick of it, and I know plenty of non-smokers who also find this latest tax baffling.

President Obama got it all started when he jumped on the train immediately after taking office, adding $1.01 to a pack of cigarettes in 2009. It was one of the president’s first pieces of legislation.

Minnesota’s latest $1.60 tax on tobacco products took effect July 1. After all is said and done, the price is roughly two dollars more per pack than it was June 30. Total tax on a pack of cigarettes is $2.83. Add on President Obama’s buck and a penny and what am I paying for? Twenty cigarettes, or just blind taxation and I get the cancer sticks as a bonus?

In what other demographic would this be tolerated?

Back in May, I started a small email campaign to heckle legislators in St. Paul and Washington about what I believed was a ridiculous campaign that allows legislators to raise taxes and nobody says a word. Smokers just turn the other lung. Everyone else is just happy it is not falling on them. That is what makes taxing smokers so easy. It’s trendy.

I fired off a few choice words to my representatives and got a first reply from Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL) in early May: “I voted against the cigarette tax increase in 2005 but will probably vote for one this year. The health care costs to the state that are related to cigarette smoking are much higher than any revenues we get from the tax.”

Here’s the problem with Mr. Marquart’s talking point: This tax has nothing to do with health care costs related to cigarette smoking.

It’s about the Minnesota Vikings and their new stadium. (And free healthcare for little kids.) An early AP story related the tobacco tax as a state budget fix.

Ask any smoker. Take some money and make sure some little kids who need tending get the care they need. I can think of one million things worse for my tax money to go toward.

However, what really happened was somebody came up with the less than brilliant idea to fund millions of dollars for a professional football stadium with digital gambling in bars. I took $750 out of the pull tab machine at Zorbaz in Detroit Lakes the first fortnight. I figure I won’t see the tax affect me for another 20 cartons, of which I will continue to purchase out-of-state.

When the gambling vice failed to put up anywhere near the amount of money needed, it was on to the old stand-by for a bailout.

I ran into Rep. Marquart and his buddy Sen. Kent Eken as they waited in a vehicle just outside my home at the start of the Northwest Carnival Parade this past Saturday. I took this opportunity to grab my camera, one cigarette, a lighter, my beagle and a bad attitude and took it to the stoop.

There I waited.

The two politicians slowly rolled up and as we made eye contact I put flame to cigarette and blew a large puff of smoke in their direction. I figured, hey, they use the tactic with rhetoric. It is exactly what Rep. Marquart’s email to me was.

The duo waved and smiled at me.

“I can’t wave back at you guys!”

I pointed to the cigarette and, censoring the hand gesture I wanted to use, gave the duo a hefty thumbs down.

“You need to quit that nasty habit!” Marquart bellowed at me.

“You two need to get going!” and I pointed in the direction of an ape playing an accordion. The ape was the most sane thing in view compared to an elected servant yelling at me about what I should do with my leisure time in front of my own home on a weekend.

I’m looking forward to the cigarette I burn after voting for anyone but those two next election.

Maybe I’ll write in Smokey the Bear. He was at the parade, too.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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