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Who Cares About Taxing Poor Smokers?

Who Cares About Taxing Poor Smokers?
by L. Brent Bozell III
May 21, 1997

The debate over the gargantuan tobacco-crackdown bills before Congress is providing a fascinating demonstration of how the left, both in and out of the media, put political gain ahead of principle. Everybody knows the media like to skip the hard work of actually reading the bills under consideration, choosing instead to read quickly from Cliffs Notes press releases, while focusing their energies on the relatively unimportant ups and downs of political warfare. This is particularly true of the new push for taxing the snot out of tobacco products.

Consider this. Whenever the Republicans put forward a fiscal proposal (especially tax cuts), seemingly the only media concern is its impact on the poor. Usually, this means reading from some liberal group's formulation that Joe Sixpack will get some unjust fraction of what the rich will receive, and therefore the proposal is anti-poor.

But when the issue deals with tax increases, and cigarette taxes to boot, these so-called lovers of the "working class" are nowhere to be found. In the new issue of MediaNomics, Timothy Lamer analyzes 23 evening news stories in April on federal tobacco legislation on ABC, CBS, and NBC, but not one of them found the time even to mention the argument that the proposed new taxes on a pack of smokes - the liberals are pushing $1.50 a pack - unquestionably would hit the poor the hardest.

Patrick Fleanor of the Tax Foundation analyzed the current bill by so-called Republican John McCain, and the Senator does seem interested in punishing the poor: about 34 percent of the $1.21- per-pack increase would be paid by those who make less than $15,000 per year. Those earning less than $35,000 would pick up 59 percent of the tab, while only two percent of the new taxes would be paid by those making more than $150,000.

Lamer has documented exactly how the networks do the bidding of the left by advocating the tobacco police. From mid-1995 to mid-1996, for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Lung Association, and the Center for Responsive Politics.

ABC didn't link people with say, the National Taxpayers Union. They estimated the Senate's tobacco hikes are three-fourths as large as the 1990 Bush budget deal and nearly half as large as the 1993 Clinton tax hike. Sadly, while not a single member of the then-GOP minority in the Senate supported the 1993 measure, the GOP majority fell all over themselves sending this bill to the Senate floor.

Will the media succeed in their crusade to demonize Republicans who oppose this massive tax increase? The answer lies not only with the media, but with Republicans, who must oppose this bill firmly, and with the hard data being offered by the Tax Foundation and the NTU. Only then will reporters feel compelled to offer coverage deeper than the too numerous inch-thick hit pieces they've offered up until now.