Over the past few years, we’ve seen that the nation’s richest citizens have a lot of control over the course of our laws. Lobbyist funds heavily influence the votes of our politicians and now we even have billionaire Donald Trump in the running for the presidential election. Ultimately, money talks and if you have enough of it, you can make almost anything happen. Unfortunately, some people use the power of money to accomplish terrible things, even if they have the best of intentions.
That’s exactly what’s happening right now in California. Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager turned billionaire, has pledged to give a million dollars towards his pet initiative that would place a new tax on ecigarettes and increase the current tobacco tax by $2 per pack. If Steyer’s money can buy enough votes, it would mean a 70 percent excise fee on all of California’s ecigarettes, cartridges, and vapor products.
“You can’t sugar-coat it, smoking is deadly,” he told the LA Times. “This initiative aims to save lives and stop teens from ever picking up the deadly tobacco habit in the first place.”
While Steyer might sound like his heart is in the right place, a closer look shows that money is definitely at play here. If his tax initiative is accepted, California will rake in a hefty $1.5 billion every year, much of which will end up tied up in the state capital. How many of the state’s leading politicians are in bed with the Steyer financially, so to speak?
Historically, California has had one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country, at only 87 cents per pack. This tax rate has remained the same since 1998 with repeated failed attempts to increase it. Despite the low taxation, California has fewer smokers than the rest of America with only 11.7 percent of adults smoking compared to 18 percent nationwide.
Now voters will have the ultimate say in the issue by choosing their politicians in this year’s state elections. Americans for Tax Reform has already stepped in, urging voters to choose carefully. While hefty ecig taxes have already been rolled out in ten other states, they have been counterproductive. Instead of decreasing smoking rates, the tax on ecigs seems to deter smokers from switching, thereby increasing the number of smokers and keeping more people chained to tobacco products.
Do you think Steyer’s million dollar pledge is unethical? Should government officials accept private money to push for new laws or is this allowing the richest in society to have too much control?