Reaction to column is SMOKIN’!

jtarica@thetribunenews.comJune 17, 2012 

It would be an understatement to say a lot of people didn’t appreciate last week’s column on Proposition 29.

And by “didn’t appreciate,” I mean they didn’t take kindly to it. And by “didn’t take kindly to it,” I mean they hated it.

OK, so maybe it was a little inflammatory, but I was probably getting soft writing happy stories about the “hot girls,” fruit trees and patriotic monuments.

I feel like Reese Bobby in “Talladega Nights,” who gets jittery when things are too perfect. Sometimes you gotta just cause a ruckus and get kicked out of an Applebee’s.

So on that note, my apologies to the people of Orange County and the Valley. I’m sure you’re not all money-grubbers and backward-thinkers.

None of this, however, means I’m stepping back from my position that the buck-a-pack tax on cigarettes deserved to pass, despite the many illogical arguments to the contrary.

Here are three of them:

The take-it-to-extremes argument: If $1 is OK, why not $50? And why not on Big Macs and potato chips?

First, because $1 is reasonable, and $50 is not.

And second, because tobacco is uniquely destructive in a way unlike just about any other consumer product. Even alcohol, which can be similarly dangerous, is less addictive and can offer some health benefits in moderation.

The lose-lose argument: Isn’t it ironic, this one goes, that the tax would raise money for cancer research, but in doing so requires people to continue smoking?

Um, no, it’s not.

One of the big motivations here is deterrence.

High cigarette costs will help prevent more people from starting and persuade others to stop. In fact, if you disregarded all of the potential uses for the money raised, scooped up the piles of cash and buried them in a hole in the sand, the initiative would still be worthwhile for that reason alone.

The fact that it can also provide a bank of money to actually serve the needs of those who refuse to stop and ultimately will end up in Medicare, getting their lung cancer treated on the public dime? That’s just a happy bonus.

The it’s-all-about-bureaucracy argument: Our elected representatives have no intention or ability to do anything productive ever with any dollar they collect. If they do get new money, they will find a way to waste it or re-route it to some frivolous, unintended purpose, like super-fast trains from Lemoore to Kettleman City, Chihuahua Appreciation Month or the state Department of Education.

This argument worries me the most, because it indicates a fundamental lack of faith in our democratic system, as though we can’t trust anyone elected to serve in Sacramento or hired to work for the government.

It also illustrates a disturbing cynicism and disdain for the public sector that’s so extreme it compels people to either simply give up participating or actively attempt to undo critical threads of our social fabric.

And that is the last thing we can afford.

Parts of the system may be frayed, but the system itself is not.

It’s what gives us clean air and safe food and 13 years of free education and roads from here to there and police and fire services to keep us safe and … the list goes on.

It’s still worth rooting for, not tearing down.

We would be wise not to take such benefits for granted.

When you’re feeling particularly cranky, remember that.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor at The Tribune.

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