President Obama’s first tax increase went into effect yesterday, in the form of the single greatest federal tax increase ever levied on cigarettes. Instead of paying a 39¢ tax per pack, now individuals will be forced to pay $1.01 per pack. One of the motives for passing this legislation is to discourage people from smoking because of the ill health effects it poses.
But is it proper for Obama to discourage or encourage certain behavior through legislation?
The Founders of our nation recognized that each of us has the right to our own life and to pursue our own happiness, and indeed, for many people, cigarettes provide a means of relaxation and a form of enjoyment. Like many other activities, however, smoking can be dangerous. If done excessively, it can pose serious health risks, just like infrequently exercising or driving a motorcycle can cause severe harm.
But because one’s life is one’s own, individuals have the right to engage in such activities, even though they may involve some risk. We have the right to make our own decisions as to which actions will best enhance our lives and then the responsibility to bear the consequences of those decisions. If an individual chooses to smoke a pack a day and eventually suffers from lung cancer, that is his decision and he will be left to deal with the consequences- just like the person who has a heart attack from a lack of exercise or a motorcyclist who is injured by an accident on the highway.
It is not the government’s job to punish us via taxation for doing something that might not be in our best interest. If an individual chooses to drive the course of his life in a way that might ultimately be harmful, it is his right to do so. While we may disagree with his choices, we don’t have the right to force him to live his life in a way that is against his own judgment. The government’s proper function is to protect our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from being infringed upon by others, not to protect us from ourselves.
If the government assumes the role of playing our babysitter, what should we expect next? Will everyone be forced to pay a higher video game tax just because some people are couch potatoes? Should we increase taxes on motorcycles to discourage their use, due to their higher accident rates?
In passing this tax on cigarettes, Obama treats the American people as a mindless herd that needs to be pushed in the direction he deems right. But we have the responsibility and the right to think and make decisions for ourselves, no matter how much people disapprove of these decisions. Using political power to punish people for choosing the course of their own lives is highly unjust and tremendously un-American.