Tobacco tax

Smokers are under siege, and no more so than in New York. On Tuesday, the state tax on cigarettes jumped 83 percent to a national high of $2.50 per pack.

By comparison, Nevada smokers cough up -- pun intended -- 80 cents in state taxes for each pack they purchase.

Of course, the usual suspects were congratulating themselves for the punitive new levy -- but for different reasons.

The state's lead Nanny Stater could barely contain his giddiness.

"Isn't that something -- to say that I'm excited about a tax increase?" Dr. Richard Daines, the New York health commissioner, told The Associated Press. "But I am. This is a public health victory. We know one of the really effective tools to get people off of their nicotine addiction is to the raise the price."

On the other hand, New York's big spenders lauded the move, saying the cigarette tax will generate $1.3 billion for the state government during the next fiscal year.

Again, we see the conflict inherent between the desire by do-gooders to outlaw tobacco and the state's need to keep the cash flowing.

We'll wager, however, that the revenue estimates will be well off the mark -- and not because hordes of New York smokers will now kick the habit. Instead, they'll find new sources to feed their need.

"More and more smokers in New York state are going to abandon our stores that have to charge the tax and shift their purchases to places that don't charge the tax, most notably Native American stores, the Internet and bootleggers," said Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

The key word there is "bootleggers." New York's new tax will only exacerbate the problem of tobacco smuggling there, leading law enforcement to devote more and more resources to look like they're doing something about it -- all at the expense of more pressing matters.

Even before the tax hike, a 2006 study estimated that New York had lost more than $576 million due to black market smokes.

The higher tax will surely make that worse, creating thousands of brand new criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens who simply want to be left alone to enjoy their vice of choice.