Cigarettes are designed to kill you painfully. How silly—they should be designed to kill you painlessly, preferably just as you retireby Julian Gough / July 4, 2009 / Leave a comment
Governments everywhere face falling revenues, while their expenditure explodes and their unfunded pensions commitments threaten fiscal catastrophe. Some of the most innovative solutions to this dilemma are coming out of China. The authorities in Gong’an county recently ordered their civil servants and teachers to smoke 230,000 packs of the local brand of cigarettes each year. As local official Chen Nianzu pointed out, “The regulation will boost the local economy via the cigarette tax.” This kind of creative thinking makes China the envy of the world. But it is merely the beginning.
Cigarettes have always been a simple way to get the people to hand their money straight back to the government for more productive use. (Across Europe, roughly 75 per cent of the price of a packet of cigarettes is tax.) However, cigarettes have traditionally been thought of as food or entertainment products with a tax attached, when they are in fact taxes with a product attached; a cigarette is merely a tube that you suck on. Anything can be packed into that tube. Western governments adjust the tax to maximise revenue, when they should be adjusting the product.
But the west has problems carrying out such revolutionary programmes as its cigarette companies are in private hands. The Chinese government, however, is ideally placed to improve cigarette quality. The state-owned China National Tobacco Co is the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the world. (It has an almost total monopoly in the People’s Republic—only 3 per cent of cigarette sales in China are of foreign brands.) They make, sell—and tax—1.7 trillion cigarettes a year. So China is free to take the best aspects of western cigarettes and build on them.
Of course you start with nicotine. Instant chemical addiction is vital to maintain a tax rate of over 75 per cent on a product which kills half its customers. Indeed, from a revenue enhancement perspective, the addictiveness is all you need. Private Chinese companies such as Ruyan have realised this, bringing out electric cigarettes. You inhale pure evaporated nicotine: no leaves, smoke, or death. But from a government perspective, it is a grave mistake to cut out tar and the hundreds of carcinogens in standard cigarettes. The roughly 30-year lag time between starting smoking and dying of it means smokers pay taxes all their life, then die—a huge saving in government pension provision. (Hence the FDA is banning the…