The Death of the Tobacco Bill is Good News for Food, Coffee, Cola and Restaurants

The June 17 death of the massive tobacco bill is good news for the American people, says Amy Ridenour, president of The National Center for Public Policy Research.

“Proponents of the bill lost sight of the original agreement between states suing tobacco companies and the tobacco companies, and got greedy,” said Ridenour. “Instead of crafting a bill with an eye toward addressing health issues, the Clinton Administration and too many Senators instead engaged in an attempt to wring every dime — over $800 billion in new taxes — they could from the American people.”

All the money under this tobacco bill would have come from smokers. According to the Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, 53% of the taxes would have come from people making under $30,000 and a whopping 97% would have come from people making under $75,000. Section 404 of the bill specifically forbade the tobacco companies from paying the tax on smokers’ behalf. According to the National Taxpayers’ Union, the Senate bill would have enacted a tax increase 3/4 as large as the 1990 Bush tax package and nearly half as large as the 1993 Clinton tax package.

“This bill was bad for other reasons,” said Ridenour. “In particular, it would have made a few hundred trial lawyers very rich. If any lawyer becomes wealthy working for government in a tobacco case, the lawsuits won’t end with tobacco. Beer and liquor companies will be next, or the coffee and cola industry, or the fast food and restaurant industry.”

Activists already have their sights set on each of these industries:

The American Medical Association’s Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse already argues that the attention paid to tobacco should now be focused on alcohol. Director Richard Yoast has said, “The beer industry is acting more and more like the tobacco industry. The [Joe Camel ads], you could substitute beer and it would be the same thing.”

Caffeine is the “new tobacco” to others. The Nation magazine now talks about caffeine the way trial lawyers talk about tobacco: “Caffeine Inc. is raking it in, often targeting teens and younger kids… The major caffeine suppliers to kids have been throwing millions to advertising and giveaways.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling upon the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the caffeine content in coffee, tea, soda and chocolate. The current round of tobacco bashing began with calls for FDA regulation of tobacco.

Fast food and restaurants are other new bogeymen. Yale University researchers are turning fast food chains and other restaurants into the nation’s next pariah industry, calling for federal regulation of unhealthy food, federal subsidies of fruits and vegetables, and punitive excise taxes on high-fat foods. Professor Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale’s Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, says, “Junk food advertisements should be regulated, and excise taxes imposed on high-fat foods, just as they are on tobacco and alcohol.” He also says: “As a culture, we get upset about Joe Camel, yet we tolerate our children seeing 10,000 commercials a year that promote foods that are every bit as unhealthy.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest agrees, its director observing: “It’s high time the [restaurant] industry begins to bear some responsibility for its contribution to obesity, heart disease and cancer.”

Ridenour concludes: “If the Senate takes up the tobacco issue again, it should avoid huge tax increases on lower-income Americans, and avoid provisions that enrich a small number of trial lawyers. The American public shouldn’t have to suffer high tax bills on everything from their morning cup of coffee to a hot dog at a baseball game.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.