Small Masthead
Cops Always Have The Best Marlboros

A Modest Proposal for the Tobacco Companies

Dave Hitt

Although existing tobacco taxes already cover smokers' medical bills, the government and their bottom feeders are extorting record amounts from tobacco companies. Most of them are rolling over, not only "agreeing" to enormous settlements but also giving up their right to advertise or even speak about their products. They need to grow some balls and fight back.

They can do it very simply with a dramatic, high profile, nearly legal plan: they just have to agree to stop selling their product in one state.

California is the perfect choice. Of all the states jumping on the anti-tobacco bandwagon they have been the most hostile to smokers and merchants. The Meathead Tax, so called because it was heavily sponsored by Rob Reiner, passed by a fraction of a percent but still put most tobacco shops out of business with dramatic increases in tobacco taxes. They've gone so far as to make it illegal for private clubs to allow smoking. They have proposed bills restricting smoking in private vehicles. They are the perfect place for the battle.

For this to work all of the major tobacco companies will have to cooperate. The execution of the plan will be fairly simple. First, they'll pick a date. Then about a week in advance they'll announce their experiment: a complete prohibition of the sale of any tobacco product in California. It will be enforced, not by the government, but by the tobacco industry itself. They'll announce that they will not ship any product to any wholesaler caught shipping tobacco products to California after the ban starts. Tobacco executives should spend the week making noble sounding statements, using terms like "public health" and "corporate concern" and the always popular "for the children." Then they can sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

On the first day of the ban the anti-smoking Nannies will be literally dancing in the streets. It will be a grand day for them. Smokers will ignore them as they scurry from store to store buying all the tobacco products they can afford.

On the second day smokers will still have cigarettes, but most of the stores won't. The Nannies will still be doing their little superior dances. They'll take breaks at Starbucks, sipping coffee and jabbering with each other about the evils of addiction.

By day three some smokers will have run out of cigarettes. Their annoyance with the dancing Nannies will be growing, but they'll too busy searching for a connection to do much about it.

Within two weeks most smokers will be dry and every store will be sold out of anything even slightly related to tobacco. The Nannies, having suffered severe beatings from mobs of twitchy smokers, will be in deep hiding.

A new industry will be born when Californians realize they can make three payments on the mini-van by driving it across the border and filling it with cigarettes. Smuggling from Oregon, Nevada and Arizona will be so easy and so profitable that hundreds of thousands of formerly solid citizens will become dealers. Indian reservations will do a brisk business in illegal smokes. Soon it will be obvious, even to the police, that there is a new crime wave starting. It will quickly grow bigger than prohibition. It will dwarf illegal drug traffic.

Meathead's LegacyStores just over the California border will sell cartons of everything as fast as they can get them off the truck. Mail order companies will ship so much tobacco into the state that UPS will have to hire extra drivers. People visiting from other states will bring their California friends trunks full of cigars and cigarettes. The tobacco companies won't lose a dime as their products flow across the border. They may even experience a sales increase - prohibition has always increased the popularity of banned substances.

California will kiss a half billion dollars of cigarette tax revenue good-bye just as their need for police increases. As always, growth in illegal profits will increase graft and corruption in the police force. The old saying about dope would change to "Cops always have the best Marlboros."

The chaos won't last forever. Within two or three months everyone will have calmed down. Every block will have two or three dealers and every smoker will have a dozen connections. The extensive dealer network will keep prices close to pre-ban levels. Prohibition will make smoking cooler, which will result in a rise in teenage smoking.

Some people, faced with a slight increase in the difficulty of obtaining smokes, will quit, although they'll avoid being sanctimonious about it for fear of developing the "Nanny Flinch."

Instead of beating Nannies, which is time consuming and not mellow enough for the left coast, a more practical custom will become common. Anyone who complains about smoking will get a quick, polite-but-firm dope slap. If they persist they'll earn a full fledged bitch slap (an open-handed smack followed immediately by a backhand). It will be administered politely. Nannies may try to conceal their political bent, but smokers will be able to spot them by making quick hand movements and seeing who flinches.

The Justice department will be in an embarrassing position. The tobacco companies' collusion will be an obvious violation of anti-trust laws. But if the government is already suing them for selling tobacco how can they sue them for not selling tobacco? How will they punish tobacco companies for conspiring to reduce smoking?

It's hard to predict how the state government will react to a quarter of their citizens gleefully participating in smuggling, possessing and consuming contraband. California has been so sanctimonious about it for so long it's unlikely they'll recant and go back to treating smokers like human beings. Perhaps they'll declare anything more than a pack is "sale weight" and start confiscating the homes and vehicles of smokers to make up for the tax shortfall. Maybe they'll allow doctors to prescribe a carton of Camels along with a patient's medical marijuana. Whatever their solution, it is sure to be amusing. And the other forty-nine states, seeing the chaos and breakdown caused by the new prohibition, might be a little less eager to continue participating in the largest theft in American history.


Other Links

The smuggling has already started {Nevada Policy Research Institute}

The Black Market Bonanza {The Washington Post}

Hiking Cigarette Taxes Is Good for (Illegal) Business {The New York Times}

This article was featured in issue #27 of the United Pro-Choice Smoker's Rights Newsletter.


© 1999 Dave Hitt

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