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Up in Smoke

‘Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette
Puff, puff, puff and if you smoke yourself to death
Tell Saint Peter at the golden gate that you hate to make him wait
But you got to have another cigarette’
From the song Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette
Merle Travis/ Tex Williams 1947
Let me start out that I absolutely hate the new anti-smoking commercials on TV featuring a woman named Mary who has suffered through the ravages of lung/ throat cancer and rendered to looking like a stand-in for The Walking Dead TV series. Invariably I am in the process of eating and quickly lose my appetite. I guess they also serve as weight loss aid!
I am in no way a defender of smoking, my Dad started smoking at the age of 14 (the year was 1930) working himself up to 2 packs of Camels a day. His smokers cough in the bedroom next door would wake me up in the morning followed by hearing the click of the lighter. Although he had quit (cold turkey) decades before his death he ended up at one point losing part of his lung.
Certainly the national stance on smoking has dramatically shifted from when I was in the military in the early 70’s where inside your c-rations was a 4 pack of cigarettes, vintage World War II.I always traded mine, usually for powdered hot chocolate.
The issues swirling around smoking are as complex as the list of ingredients in a cigarette (of which there are over 500). I don’t want to touch on the health issues; they are a given. Let’s talk about money.
New York State currently has the highest cigarette tax in the nation coming in at $4.35 a pack ($5.85 in New York City). So stop by your local convenience store and you’ll be paying around $10 a pack.
There have been some interesting by-products from this.
CNN estimates that 60% of all cigarettes are smuggled in from out of state (primary culprit Virginia who only has a 30 cent tax) depriving New York of over one and a half billion dollars.
Certainly the nicotine addiction cuts both ways when you have a habit that pours vast amounts of cash into the state coffers. I’m unsure how much of these ‘sin tax’ funds are earmarked for smoking secession programs or just get funneled into the general fund.
Secondly I am struck by that it appears that those that are least affluent are the core of the smoking ranks. A study by RTI’s Public Health Policy Research Program showed that wealthier puffers spend on average 2% of their income; for the poor it’s 25%- Wow 1 in 4 of a persons dollars are literally going up in smoke!
The medical and human costs for smoking are massive. The American Lung Association pegs the costs for New York State at north of fourteen billion dollars and over thirteen thousand lives a year.
Some perspective on the human toll, we are currently losing twice the number of our fellow New Yorkers from tobacco than we have lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2001-2014); and that is just in one year!
Thanks a lot Sir Walter Raleigh…

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