‘It never stops’: Elkhart smokers lament proposed cigarette tax hike

President Obama's proposal to hike the cigarette tax, part of his federal budget proposal, is generating mixed response.
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 10, 2013 at 4:33 p.m.

ELKHART — Smokers just can’t get a break, it seems.

A never-ending stream of new rules keeps limiting where and when smokers can light up, laments Robert Hutchins. Now comes President Obama’s proposal to nearly double the taxes on a pack of smokes.

“It never stops,” said Hutchins, heading out of an Elkhart tobacco store with a bag of pipe tobacco and a carton of cigarettes.

Obama’s cigarette plan, unveiled Wednesday, April 10, as part of his federal budget plan, would hike the federal taxes on a pack of cigarettes nearly twofold, from $1.01 to $1.95. His overall budget plan — complementing Senate and House offerings — calls for a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, with the cigarette tax to fund a new preschool program for 4-year-olds, according to the Associated Press.

Whatever Obama’s motivation, Hutchins wasn’t pleased, viewing the tax and what he sees as the underlying anti-smoking message as government overreach. “It’s communist, telling me what to do, what not to do, 24-7,” he said.

Catherine Olvera, now 41 and a smoker since she was 10, said a new tax on alcohol would be more apt, a round-about way to reduce drinking and prevent deaths stemming from drunk-driving accidents.

“Why don’t you tax something that kills people, like alcohol?” she said, headed into the tobacco store.

Never mind that smoking can cause cancer, even to non-smokers, she sees the smoking issue as one of personal choice. “With cigarettes, I’m not hurting nobody but myself,” Olvera said.

Not everybody had bad things to say about the cigarette tax proposal.

Mark Potuck, head of Tobacco Control of Elkhart County, the Elkhart County Health Department’s anti-smoking program, feels some sympathy for smokers who would have to shell out more money.

“On the other hand, deep down I know (increasing cigarette prices is) one of the best ways to get people to quit,” he said. Higher prices, likewise, could prevent teens from getting started in the first place.

Hutchins, a smoker of 45 years, doesn’t totally buy Potuck’s reasoning. “Most people that smoke, they might have to cut back (if taxes go up), but they’re not going to quit,” the retiree said.

Rex, however, gave credence to Potuck’s argument. The Elkhart man asked that his last name not be used because some family members don’t know he smokes.

“It’s got me on the ropes at this point,” Rex said. He doesn’t like the notion of the government using taxes to force people’s behavior, but on the other hand, if cigarette prices go up, he just may give quitting a shot, he indicated.

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