I’ve often defended social conservatives from libertarians who overlook the fact that many of the members of Congress who fought runaway government spending most ferociously during the Bush administration were also among the most socially conservative. That’s why it was particularly alarming to witness Mike Huckabee gain national prominence with a brand of conservatism that merged tax-and-spend governance and nanny statism with traditional values issues. This struck me when I read that the head of the Florida Christian Coalition has come out in favor of a cigarette tax as a way to stave off the expansion of legalized gambling in the state.
“Something like the cigarette tax is something that could be considered acceptable, not only in shaping acceptable [health] behavior in the future but keeping us out of an arena where we’re depending on people losing a tremendous amount of money,” the head of the group, Dennis Baxley, told the Sun Sentinel.
Cigarette taxes are bad policy on multiple levels. They disproportionately hurt lower income groups and they don’t raise the revenue they are projected to raise — in part because they are successful in discouraging people from smoking, but also because they increase black market sales of cigarettes. In that sense, they actually promote organized crime. Yet cash-strapped legislatures such as Florida, as well as the federal government (see S-CHIP), continue to pursue this policy out of a belief that it’s somehow more “acceptable” to raise taxes on a group of people just because they smoke.