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EDITORIAL: Anti-smoking zealots upset that some states won’t punish smokers with massive taxes

The Washington Post reports that anti-smoking advocates are in a tizzy because many states refuse to jack up cigarette taxes to punitive levels.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids, told the paper, “because unlike so many other problems in the country, this is one case where we know the solution. Not only that. It’s a solution that’s widely popular, doesn’t cost the government anything, yet these state refuse to do it.”

Mr. Myers and others seek to use taxes to punish smokers financially and eventually force them to give up the habit or go broke. They advocate for large increases of a $1 or $2 a pack at a time. Lawmakers in many states, however, haven’t always been willing to go along.

As the Post notes, the philosophical argument that “adults should be free to choose whether to smoke and not be prodded into quitting by a nanny state” has been tough to overcome in many capitals. Good. Maybe there’s hope for individual freedom, after all.

The anti-smoking activists have also been hindered by an overall aversion to higher and higher taxes, particularly for “sin” levies that hit lower-income Americans the hardest.

Perhaps Mr. Myers and friends should de-emphasize their focus on social engineering and cigarette taxes in favor of promoting a practice that could help millions of smokers put down the cancer sticks. Vaping has the potential to be a public health bonanza, yet too many anti-smoking zealots remain committed to a misguided moral crusade against e-cigarettes despite evidence that they are safer than traditional cigarettes and a valuable tool when it comes to helping smokers quit.

If Mr. Myers truly wants to help wean smokers from their habit, he might downplay the prohibition and high-tax approach and shift some of his energy to promoting safer alternatives that could save lives.

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