As 2007 closes and 2008 looms around the corner, a very undiscussed phenomena is unfolding. The new $1.00 a pack cigarette tax goes into effect in Wisconsin as of midnight tonight.
The vast majority of smokers are poor. Smoking does that to you as you spend your extra dollars every day maintaining your habit instead of investing them into the stock market.
What's more upsetting though is the inability of so many to quit and the extra burden the $1/pack will put on the poorest in Wisconsin. That's $365 extra in costs per year for most pack a day smokers. With 2 smokers in many households, that's an extra $730/year! A tax on the poorest in our community for the most part. Remember this is on top of $2,555 already spent on a habit most would like to quit. A total cost in 2008 to smoke for a 2 smoker household of $3,285. That's at an average of $4.50/pack (I know for those of you outside WI choking at the low cost, the jump is still significant to us!)with just one pack smoked a day. A cost that will hit primarily those without healthcare who are often unable to get the help they need to quit.
Imagine the poorest in Wisconsin having an extra $3,300 in their households every year! What that could do for poverty in Wisconsin. Yes, some token quit smoking programs are in effect from the state, but with McCallum spending the smoker settlement a few years ago, that money is gone and only the tax is left to pay for them.
There are new drugs that work. How about making them available at no charge to anyone who wants them? How about subsidizing the outrageous costs of nicotine replacements like the patch, gum, etc? These things could really help those who want to quit, but alas, what will happen in most cases is that people will go out of state, online, to the reservations and ultimately the black market for their cigarettes in Wisconsin.
This is what's happening today. Cars double parked, people out in droves all buying by the carton, not the pack... Postponing the inevidible...
These pictures were taken just an hour ago at a tobacco shop in Milwaukee. The lines are non-stop. The shelves are running down to empty and hundreds are buying not packs of cigarettes today, but multiple cartons. Word is out on the streets and my guess is a few smart dealers are emptying the local shelves for the quick profit they'll turn with a street mark up of 50 cents instead of a dollar...
Then there are the poor. Spending every penny they can today to save money tomorrow. They may not have enough to eat, or pay rent tomorrow, but by god, they will have cigarettes and as a smoker, I can tell you I got my cartons today... in fact, I bought the remainder of my brand at this store along with everyone else in line with me.
The conversations in the store were humorous and sad. "I'd love to quit, but the meds don't go with my other meds, so I can't take them." "I'll be going to Potowatomi from now on." "I have a doctor's appointment in a few weeks, I'll try to get the new drugs, but I don't have prescription coverage, so I don't know how to pay for them. They are more than my cigarettes!" "I've tried 6 times with a different method each time and I just can't beat it."
Very few of us smokers want to be smokers. We made bad decisions when we were very young and pay for them every day. We know we will die from those bad decisions and everyone of us can tell you the name of the "friend" they first smoked with... usually not with any kind of a smile on our faces.
We are ostracized from society. We huddle outside in the bitter cold of winter in dark alleys feeding our habit in shame. We are uncomfortable in nearly every location we go. We are separated from our families our children our friends our coworkers our selves because of a habit we cannot stop.
We can't smoke in whole cities, restaurants, cars, planes, the list goes on and on.... We get out of our beds in the middle of the night in hotels to go outside to smoke. We are social outcasts who are considered too weak to do anything about it and so unfit for society. Strangers tell us of watching their grandparents, parents, best friends, lovers, children die in agony...unsolicited information intended to make us feel just a little more like asses as if we needed that... Then they say something stupid like, "my friend quit by putting needles in her ears..."
I personally have tried smoking replacement (4 different kinds), prescription meds, cold turkey, and last summer 7 sessions of hypnosis... all to no avail. Last month I smoked through bronchitis. The doctors took a look at my lungs and told me I needed to quit or die. I'm only 40 years old...
When it's painful and makes me miserable and I'm told I'm dying, I continue to smoke... This is not a choice it is a painful, shameful and awful addiction. Harder to quit than heroin or so they say... don't know personally, never tried heroin, but know people who are former junkies who still smoke... And it's expensive. With my husband and I both smokers, this will hit our meager pocketbooks already stretched to the limit all that much more...
I hope the politicians do something more with it than they did with the tobacco settlement. My sacrifice will be hard and I will go once again to my doctor and beg for another way to quit.
I've heard of some new drug that is working. I'm sure someday we'll find that is causes heart attacks, diabetes, strokes, cancer, since it was approved by the non-existent Bush FDA, but so does smoking, so I might as well take my chances. At least then, my pain will be for a sanctioned illness that I'll get sympathy for suffering instead of being part of the trampled upon and banished smoker class...
Happy New Year Smokers!!! You still have a few hours left to get that carton. If they still have them on the shelves... (pictures courtesy of Michael Crawford, photographer)