Education, Not Cheap Smokes, Lifts People Out Of Poverty

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Republicans would like to prevent Minnesota’s cigarette tax from automatically going up every year and are trying to sell it as a way of helping the poor. Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) says he has visited people who live in trailer courts and sees that they smoke a lot. He says many trailer court residents are poor and rising cigarette taxes are oppressive to them.

“That argument that we’re sort of protecting poor people by keeping cigarette prices low has always just sort of bothered me,” shot back Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing). “I would agree that tobacco tax is regressive. It does impact low income individuals more than middle or upper class individuals. So it is a regressive tax. But I think the argument that we’re sort of protecting poor people by keeping their cigarette taxes low is just a little disingenuous.”

Melin says her parents lived in a trailer court and her dad smoked, but the reason her family was able to move out of the low income housing wasn’t because of “cheap smokes.” She says it was “because they were educated and provided other economic opportunities in order to sort of climb the ladder.”

“There are so many other variables when it comes to people being able to climb the economic ladder and to improve their quality of life and economic standing that you know I think limiting it to, you know, we’re protecting people by keeping their cigarettes cheap is just a little bit disingenuous as to the economic issues surrounding low income Minnesotans.”

Transcript of video

Drazkowski:
The experience has shown there’s a high propensity of people within trailer courts to be smokers and as I go around and talk to those folks there. And not all of them are poor. But the bulk of them are poor. And to see the oppression this tax is placing on them, you hear from those folks, is very very compelling. At least it was for me.

EDIT

Melin:
That argument that we’re sort of protecting poor people by keeping cigarette prices low has always just sort of bothered me. I would agree that tobacco tax is regressive. It does impact low income individuals more than middle or upper class individuals. So it is a regressive tax. But I think the argument that we’re sort of protecting poor people by keeping their cigarette taxes low is just a little disingenuous. And ,you know, my parents actually lived in a trailer park and my dad was a smoker at that time. He too started while he was in the military getting those free cigarettes.

You know when my brother was a toddler and my mom was pregnant with me. They were able to move out of the trailer park and purchase a home and that wasn’t because my dad was smoking cheap cigarettes, it’s because they were educated and provided other economic opportunities in order to sort of climb the ladder.

And fortunately he was able to quit smoking when I was in grade school, so I’m lucky enough to have him still around. But, you know, I would just say that argument that we’re sort of protecting poor people by keeping their smokes cheap is a little disingenuous to those who are working hard to climb the ladder and don’t have the opportunities presented to them.

So that was the only comment I wanted to make and I know we’ve heard that argument in the past. Thank you Mr. Chair.

EDIT

Drazkowski:
There’s people who are in the trailer parks who are not poor. But I’ll tell you, the bulk of them are. And when you talk to them about the impact of this tax on their life — cause I did— it was very compelling to me that indeed the oppression of this tax is at the front of their minds. So Representative Melin, I beg to differ but thank you for the discussion.

Chair:
Oh you were doing so good Chair Drazkowski. Now you said Representative Melin. Representative Melin. (laughter) You just about made it.

Melin:
Well, Mr. Chair, maybe it just goes to philosophical differences. I’m not disagreeing with Representative Drazkowski that this is a regressive tax and it impacts lower income people you know more than others. But there are so many other variables when it comes to people being able to climb the economic ladder and to improve their quality of life and economic standing that you know I think limiting it to, you know, we’re protecting people by keeping their cigarettes cheap is just a little bit disingenuous as to the economic issues surrounding low income Minnesotans. And that’s my only comment.

Thank you.

Michael McIntee

Michael McIntee is a former network TV news executive with more than 30 years of broadcasting experience. He began his broadcasting career at the University of Minnesota's student radio station. He is an expert producer, writer, video editor who has a fondness for new technology but denies that he is a geek. More about Michael McIntee »

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