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Crime Creation

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THE HAWAII TAX on cigarettes is the highest in the nation; $1 per package, $10 per carton. That’s after the federal government applies its tax.

If you want to display your protest to a mindless drivel of government laws and rules, one way to do it is to smoke. So, cigarette smoking is appealing to teenagers, many of whom are in search for ways to display rebellion and nonconformity. For some reason, it is also appealing to persons in lower income brackets. Thus, we have two vulnerable groups of citizens targeted for higher taxes, The fact that such was not intended (perhaps) is not really relevant. The situation exists, and it was sponsored by government action.

At a recent postlegislative session briefing in Hawaii, state legislators addressed the cigarette-smoking situation and reported with pride that the legislature had passed a new law that requires a Hawaii cigarette tax stamp on each package sold. The purpose of this action, they said, was to combat the developing black market in illegally imported cigarettes. They mentioned something about legal sales of cigarettes dropping dramatically as soon as the tax was raised, which proved that illegal sales were occurring. Why it did not prove that smoking was decreasing, I do not know. Anyway, concern was expressed that sellers of illegal cigarettes might start targeting our schoolchildren. The tax stamp would preclude that because there are very heavy penalties (more law) for use or sale of cigarettes not bearing the new tax stamp.

Let’s review. Before this “war” on cigarettes was launched with taxes raised sky-high by government action, we had no significant black market and we certainly were not concerned about spooky characters lurking around our schools attempting to “hook” our kids on cigarettes. Now we have these concerns. A whole new category of criminals has been created. A new crime has been invented. Worse yet, when I looked up the report on the law, it said in part, “Provides for fines and proceeds from the sale of forfeited cigarettes to be equally distributed between the county police department or county liquor commission which investigated the case and either the attorney general or prosecuting attorney which instituted the action.”

We already have far too many homes and businesses burglarized, cars stolen, innocent persons assaulted, and other significant crimes to which the police have not been devoting enough time and attention. Now we have a brand new cigarette crime which police and prosecutors will earn a profit for enforcing. Must I point out that they do not profit from preventing your house from being broken into? Where do you think police and court priorities are being directed? Well, let me give you a clue: not to protect you and yours, that’s for sure.

Soon, very soon, you will hear cries for more police and more prosecutors because they are so busy enforcing this new law. Then your taxes will be raised to hire more people to profit from cigarette enforcement while you attempt to deal with your neighborhood crime yourself — disarmed, of course.

Most of us are in favor of crime prevention. However, I’m not convinced we should endorse crime creation. If our legislators believe it is their function to create crime and criminals under the guise of “protecting society,” it seems to me that we should set them straight — like straight out of office. We have quite enough crime, thanks. The criminals do not deserve government assistance for their business; it’s lucrative enough already.

This whole mess reminds me that we didn’t have significant drug-abuse problems linked to major crime organizations before the government declared a “war” on drugs. Today, our society is being eaten from within by government-created crime related to drugs. Cigarettes are now to be added.

What’s next? Coffee? Darn that Starbucks — subverting and corrupting our innocent youth. Let’s pass a law. We can tax everyone to death to preserve their health … with special emphasis on the poor and otherwise vulnerable. And we can arrange to have the police profit from enforcement, thus further corrupting them.

All this reflects a “progressive” society, say our lawgivers. Their idea of progress doesn’t match mine. How about yours?

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    Mr. Rowland is in the insurance business in Hawaii.