Smokers uniting to fight taxes, bans


POSTED: Monday, June 29, 2009

We have just completed our third year in beseeching lawmakers to strongly consider implementing smoking exemptions for bars requesting one. It was a very successful session, as more and more lawmakers are realizing that the mantra of “;Smoking Bans Are Good For Business”; was just that—a mantra. It is critical to note that after years of steady increases in growth (except for 9/11), the first drop in Japanese tourist numbers occurred in January 2007, just a month after the start of our smoking ban. This was the catalyst that began Hawaii's march off the economic cliff and the resulting bankruptcies and unemployment hikes. By the way, 12 states allow reasonable smoking exemptions for bars. Pennsylvania granted 1,700 exemptions last November. Reasonable exemptions for bars is all we have been asking for.

Our grassroots efforts to educate our lawmakers one “;drop off”; at a time, revealed the remarkable ability of our opposition in the field of the culinary arts. Specifically notable was their skill of cooking up numbers, stats and percentages. It's uncanny that somehow they can always show pieces of “;data”; that only seem to fit their personal agendas. The raw numbers actually show and clarify the bigger picture.

Total health-care costs in America are over $2.2 trillion dollars per year and rising. Of that, costs attributed to alcohol are $175 billion, tobacco at $137 billion and $115 billion for illicit or prescription drugs. Health-care costs for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer account for as much as $1.4 trillion. At the very least, 40 percent of that figure is attributed to being overweight or obese. Do the math.

So we smokers, who are responsible for less than 10 percent of all health-care costs, get taxed out of our minds and shoved out of bars to boot. The recent federal tax hike increased “;non-cigarette”; tobacco by a Draconian 2,200 percent! Lawmakers pass unjust laws for one reason. They do not fear a particular voting bloc. For the first time in world history the smoker voting bloc unveiled itself right here in Hawaii, critically impacting what turned out to be the third-closest race in last year's primaries (Alex Sonson vs. Clarence Nishihara in Senate District 18). We campaigned for Sonson, who was a big supporter of small business and exemptions. Smokers and bar owners are angry. We have had enough and we will vote in unity. Taxation for the purpose of social engineering should be called extortion. It seems the editorial staff of the “;new and improved”; Star Bulletin has taken their eyes off the ball in defending even more increases in tobacco taxes. The hundreds of millions of dollars our state already collects in tobacco taxes are obscene and ill-spent.

The Tea Party movement began in February when Congress enacted the SCHIP bill, grotesquely raising tobacco taxes to help pay for health care. As a protest, tens of thousands of smokers sent real or virtual tea bags to those on Capitol Hill just to let them know that we have had it. The movement has grown exponentially and now has incorporated millions who share the exact same core values of fighting excessive taxation and governmental intrusion. There are 40,000 registered smoker voters in Hawaii, and 15 million strong across the nation. We are slowly waking up and uniting. You can bet these uncooked numbers will really stir up some delicious damage to those of the status-quo mindset in many elections to come.


This commentary is by Kawika Crowley and Jolynn Tenn, the Hawaii Smokers Alliance and Hawaii Bar Owners Association.