Editorial - W.Va. needs higher cigarette tax
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 00:03
According to the Center for Disease Control, West Virginia has the highest smoking rate in the nation.
Experts believe the causes for this are varied, and include the fact that West Virginia’s population is relatively uneducated, tobacco use is embedded in Appalachian culture, and tobacco control policies in West Virginia are weak.
Although it would take a long-term effort to substantially improve West Virginia’s education system or alter its culture, our legislature has thus far failed to enact tobacco control policies that are proven to reduce the smoking rate.
A recent assessment published by the National Lung Association gave West Virginia a failing grade for its tobacco control policies, including its very low cigarette tax. At 55 cents per pack, West Virginia’s cigarette tax is the sixth lowest in the United States. A study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE found that a recent increase in the cigarette tax in New York resulted in a decrease in the smoking rate in the state.
So why haven’t our lawmakers raised West Virginia’s cigarette tax, despite its proven impact of lowering smoking rates? They certainly can’t cite lack of public support for such a measure as an excuse. A new survey conducted by the WVU School of Public Health found that an overwhelming majority of West Virginians support an increase in the cigarette tax.
None of this has swayed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who continues to oppose a cigarette tax hike. Unsurprisingly, when Tomblin was president of the West Virginia Senate, he accepted more money from the tobacco industry than any other member.
It’s time for our leaders to defy the tobacco industry, which is responsible for thousands of deaths in West Virginia each year, and enact tougher tobacco control policies to help discourage people from lighting up.
GUEST COLUMN: National Service versus America
Charlie Rangel wants to give you a job, and he doesn’t want to let you turn it down.
Rangel, a Democratic Congressman from New York, is proposing a law that would force every young American to perform two years of national service—in many cases, military service—by the age of 25. Unlike the Vietnam-era draft, there would be no exception for college students.
Some of the costs H.R. 747 would impose on you are obvious: It would take away two irreplaceable years of your life, spending them on purposes that may not contribute to your goals. It might cause skills you’ve developed in high school or college to waste away from lack of practice before you can bring them to the school or career where you want to build on them. And it could disrupt important relationships, sending you far from the people who are important to you.
And that’s saying nothing about the physical and psychological harms you could suffer if you’re forced to go into combat—harms Congressman Rangel, who was wounded in the Korean War, knows very well and still wants to impose on unwilling victims. It’s saying nothing about the possibility that you might be sent to war and never come back.
But beyond all those obvious costs to you, the bill risks subtler costs we can’t afford to overlook—costs to you, costs to the country, and costs to all of us, even those (like him and me) who’d be exempted on account of age.
Rangel thinks this bill would teach patriotism. "You may go in screaming and yelling," he says, "but when you come out, you salute the flag." In other words, you might go in hating what your country is doing to you, but you’ll come out honoring the government that did it—because you will have been forced into the habit of doing whatever the government tells you and, if you’re in uniform, of saluting and obeying all the vast hierarchy of officers the government placed over you.
That is the opposite of the way a free society teaches patriotism, and that is the opposite of the kind of patriotism a free society needs.
A free society earns its citizens’ patriotism by protecting their rights. More precisely, a government earns respect, affection and loyalty by making and enforcing laws under which people can live their lives, exercise their liberty, and pursue their own happiness. In such a society, you can see that your government is providing the security you count on—that it’s protecting you from criminals, from foreign enemies, and from anyone who, under the guise of government, would take over your life (see: Charlie Rangel). When you see that your government is performing that vital function, valuing it is a matter of justice.
And a free society needs its citizens’ patriotism to protect all its citizens’ rights. In voting, in serving on juries, and in countless other ways, Americans are called upon to stand up for freedom. That means being prepared to say no to authority figures: to incumbent presidents who trample liberty, to prosecutors who accuse innocent people, to police officers who abuse suspects, to legislators who propose unjust laws, and so on. When neither you nor someone especially important to you is an obvious victim, it’s your patriotism, your liberty-loving patriotism, that tells you to stand up for the principles of freedom—because you count on those principles being upheld when it’s your freedom on the line. But if you accept Charlie Rangel’s kind of patriotism, the kind that salutes even when your own freedom is taken away, you give up the kind of patriotism that won’t let anyone’s rights be trampled if you can help it.
Which kind of patriot do you want to be?