In California this primary, we are being asked to vote on a $1 per pack cigarette tax. My inclination, of course, is to vote no. But I thought I'd check: Are there any conservative arguments in favor of sin taxes?
- Sin taxes can trigger black markets (saw this personally when I lived under the British cigarette tax).
- Sin taxes are regressive, taking money from the poor (and sending it, in some cases, to treatment programs that one suspects are usually used by the middle class).
- Sin taxes do not, on balance, discourage unhealthy behavior; raising alcohol prices might push teen drinkers towards pot, and raising cigarette prices pushes smokers to high-tar cigs.
- Sin taxes raise less revenue than anticipated, as they target activities that are declining in popularity (and see also the black markets above). Thus, sin taxes will increase the deficit.
- Sin taxes are coercive attempts to regulate individual decisions about legal behaviors.
Conservative arguments in favor? Well, in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith approvingly cites Britain's use of alcohol taxes to curb lower-class drinking.
I'd say on balance the no's have it--or do any Ricocheteers know of other conservative arguments in favor of sin taxes?
UPDATE: Libertarian arguments are fine too; sorry if I seemed to be trying to exclude those.