Arizona's smokers have discovered that there's more than one way to be Proposition'd. First, it was Proposition 200, which banned smoking in Tempe's "public places." That's public, as in private restaurants, bars, billiard halls, and bowling alleys. Now it's Proposition 303, a proposal to increase Arizona's cigarette tax from 58 cents per pack to $1.18--the nation's fifth highest rate. The war against tobacco has reached fever pitch. Politicians and misguided voters disdain property rights, ignore contrary scientific evidence on secondhand smoke, reduce smokers to second-class citizenship, and pave the path for more intrusive government worming its way into every phase and facet of our daily lives.
Like the other states, Arizona has a huge financial interest in ensuring that the giant cigarette companies are able to sustain their payments under the multistate tobacco settlement. So the state's lofty goals--protecting nonsmokers, keeping cigarettes away from kids, and funding anti-smoking programs--must be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, Arizona's complicity in the settlement agreement helped create a four-company cigarette cartel whose revenues and profits are healthier than ever.
Nonetheless, legislators have an insatiable appetite for higher taxes on tobacco products--unaware or unconcerned that existing rates already produce revenues that substantially exceed all reliable estimates of the social costs of smoking. If Proposition 303 passes, those higher taxes will simply be passed along to the least affluent of Arizona's citizens. No doubt, many of them will seek refuge from skyrocketing prices by purchasing from black-market dealers. The result: less revenue to the state and fewer resources available to fight real crime.
In Tempe, meanwhile, smokers and nonsmokers debate which group's rights should trump. Both groups miss the point. On private property, just one person's rights matter - the rights of the owner to say how his property may be used, providing only that he doesn't violate the legitimate rights of others. The rules on public property are more complicated, and a tightly constrained smoking ban might be justified. But that's not what Proposition 200 is all about. More accurately, the Tempe smoking ban is about unrestrained government - an anti-tobacco crusade without grounding in science or common sense, and without an appreciation for the principles that nourish a free society.