Private Eye | Nicotine Fit: Too bad Gov. Huntsman can't get off the cigarettes. | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Private Eye | Nicotine Fit: Too bad Gov. Huntsman can't get off the cigarettes. 

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In years past, we were already ducking shrapnel at this point of a new session of the Utah Legislature. Going a full two days without some major legislative faux pas, ego-branded pissing match or yet another Republican threat to disembowel any and all Democrat-sponsored bills appears to be a big plus. However, with 43 days until this session ends, I’m not taking bets that this sense of harmony will last very long.

I use the word “harmony” because, compared to the exploding-star fireworks of previous legislatures, the start this year seems benign. This year, we merely have a nuclear holocaust, a picnic compared to the 2008 session which began with the “alcopops” death watch, a controversial proposal to increase the amount of liquor in a standard mixed drink, and with the ever-embittered Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan) stating about an education bill that, “this baby is black. This is a dark, ugly thing.” Blacks were not amused.

For the short term, at least, there’s a quiet, somber peace on Capitol Hill. By the looks of things, and judging from the interviews I’ve seen on TV or heard on the radio, it’s easy to mistake certain legislators’ heartfelt earnestness regarding their belated acknowledgment of Utah’s budgetary mess for quiet, somber prayer. Praying always seems as good a solution to them as any, and by listening to them, it sounds like they are.

But it’s easy to figure out, isn’t it? Year in and year out, the Utah Legislature talks to us—no, hectors us—with the need to tighten our belts, to get government out of our lives and to not only keep a lid on new taxes but cut them as well. None of which they do by example, by the way. It’s a group that spends precious legislative time collectively punishing the opposition. From higher education to the environment or any other so called “liberal” issue—our good buddies on Capitol Hill consistently spend more time and energy opposing people and causes than they do on creating any sense of Utah equity and fairness, particularly financially.

Like this year. The state budget is upside down hundreds of millions of dollars. The first place they look to cut is education. The biggest education cut will come from the University of Utah. That’s standard operating procedure; I guess a dumber Utah is a better Utah. Meanwhile, on the revenue side of the ledger, there’s yet another proposed sin tax expected to provide Utah with millions of new operating funds by adding $2 per pack in additional cigarette taxes. The easy argument goes that smokers unduly tax the health system with additional health problems fraught of smoking and should repay the state for those problems. True and false? The tobacco tax, like the exorbitant taxes on liquor, the high fees paid by clubs and restaurants that serve liquor and other hidden sin taxes are the Utah Legislature’s method of passing the tax onus onto people other than themselves. If there were a tea industry in Utah, there would be a tax against that, too.

The tobacco tax, just like the liquor taxes, will ultimately end up in the general fund and will not be used in a significant way to combat smoking or to offset health-care costs. If you believe they will, you surely believe that the moon is comprised of Dutch Edam cheese, and is not of the American Cheddar composition we all know to be the truth.

The tobacco tax is a cynical proposal from the very start—it’s been pimped as not only being a tool to reduce and prevent smoking but as a method to rid Utah of its sales tax on food. Like it’s not enough that Utah’s drinkers feed the children of Utah’s nondrinkers in the form of free school-lunch programs funded by liquor taxes, now Utah’s smokers will effectively pay the taxes of Utah’s nonsmokers each time those persons load up on barrels of ice cream, crates of processed meats, stacks of sugary cakes and waterfalls of carbonated sodas. Each of those “tax” the Utah health-care system as much as smoking does, but for political or religious expedience, they remain verboten when it comes to taxing them.

Here’s the rock: Most smokers aren’t going to quit over this or any other tax. Indeed, for the plan to work financially to Utah’s benefit, the state knows it needs smokers to keep smoking! Here’s the hard spot: If the bill is successful, collecting no sales tax on equally noxious food products creates more money available for Utah’s sugar and fat consumers to spend on their sugar and fat. Too bad the University of Utah budget may be cut because Utah’s diabetic treatment industry is headed for a gold mine.

You know what will happen when those sugar and fat consumers get sick, don’t you? A future Utah Legislature will propose even higher taxes on drinkers and smokers. All of this is made ever more unfortunate because the current tobacco-tax idea comes from Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. himself, a person this paper has accused many times of being the only sane person on Capitol Hill. But, he’s stuck, and he knows it. The Legislature won’t do the right thing regarding tax equity—they don’t believe in new taxes, remember? And it’s always easiest to tax the people, who, legitimate arguments against smoking aside, have no voice on Capitol Hill. There is no honest corollary between smoking and Utah’s budget shortfall. Huntsman knows this. Too bad that he, like nearly every governor before him, can’t get off the cigarettes.


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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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