Smoke-a-doke 

Why cigarette smoking is good for children

Here at the News Hits desk we receive a steady stream of press releases, most off which immediately get deposited in the recycling bin after getting a cursory glance.

But we recently received a release that demanded our attention. Every once in a while someone or something has the ability to cause us to open our eyes and see things from an entirely different perspective. In this case, the flash of insight and enlightenment came from what might seem an unlikely source: the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association.

And what is it the trade group for alcohol retailers had to say that hit us like a double shot of Jack Daniels? Basically that we've been looking at the issue of smoking all wrong.

Until now we labored under the mistaken belief that smoking is a generally bad thing. But according to the good folks at the MLBA, one of the problems facing the state of Michigan is that people aren't puffing enough.

Blame that damn ban on smoking in public places. The booze pushers say the ban is hurting business. And, truth be told, as much as we hate being exposed to other people's smoke, we do have some sympathy for the nicotine-craving wretches forced to huddle outside in frigid weather when out boozing.

What we didn't realize is that the smoking ban isn't just bad for at least some businesses, it is bad for the state's fiscal bottom line. And it is especially bad for kids.

Why is that?

Because people are smoking less. And that means less tobacco tax revenue, which helps support the state's School Aid Fund.

"The smoking ban is a business-killer, a job-killer," Lance Binoniemi, executive director of the MLBA, says in the release "and now there's no more denying that it is a revenue-killer."

And here we thought the main result of the ban was that tobacco would be less of a people-killer.

Binoniemi cites a recent report from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference, which includes input from the state Treasury Department as well as the House and Senate fiscal agencies. According to the release, the report estimates that the ban will cost the state $15 million in revenue during the 2010 fiscal year.

About half of that will come out of the School Aid fund, according to the release.

It's is pretty clear, right? Tobacco taxes help support education in Michigan. So, in order to help Michigan's students, we all need to start smoking more.

Of course, there are some problems with that thinking that the good folks at the MLBA slosh past. For example, according to some estimates, the cost to society per pack of cigarettes is about $10. That comes in the form of health care costs and productivity losses.

In 2006, the Michigan Cancer Consortium has estimated, the annual direct medical costs associated with tobacco use in Michigan were $3.4 billion. Smoking-attributable productivity losses added another $3.8 billion. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that direct healthcare costs and lost productivity total more than $190 billion.

Sort of makes that $15 million in lost tax revenue seem kinda paltry by comparison, no?

"Every person in the state is paying an incredible amount related to other people's tobacco use," says Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association's Midland region, which includes Michigan.

And then there are the several thousand Michigan residents who die each year from lung cancer. But here's another unexpected silver lining behind that black cloud of smoke: Because smokers die on average 10 years younger than nonsmokers, nonsmokers collect Social Security and other benefits much longer than smokers.

See, there are all sorts of advantages that we weren't thinking about.

Given all these plusses, it is no wonder that state Rep. Douglas Geiss (D-Taylor) has introduced legislation that attempts to turn back the ban by allowing restaurants and bars to have designated smoking rooms.

So, instead of pondering the conundrum that is created when education is funded by taxing a dangerous product whose use the state is trying to reduce — meaning that, if successful, the direct result will be less money for schools — buy yourself an extra pack of smokes, take them to the nearest bar and light up, knowing that it is all for the kids.

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