‘They usually charge me R32 for a packet of cigarettes. This morning it was more than R33,” a clearly upset Snapdragon told me this week after she came back from the local supermarket. “I know VAT is up, but that should only be 1%,” she fumed.
“It’s not only VAT. Remember sin tax,” I replied.
“I don’t have any sins. You, on the other hand, have lots. I shouldn’t be taxed for your mistakes,” the charming Snapdragon told me.
“Sin tax has nothing to do with sin,” I told her, thankful for the opportunity to rant over one of my pet hates.
Because I believe the very idea of a tobacco-based sin tax has the distinct smell of dishonesty to it. The theory is simple: smoking is bad for you and leaves you with diseases that cost government and the nonsmoking population a fortune. A sin tax not only encourages smokers to quit, but also creates the resources for the treatment of smoking-related diseases. But the truth is very different.
Smokers don’t cost the state more than those with a cleaner lifestyle. As a matter of fact, smoking-related illnesses such as heart disease and lung cancer are killers. People who live for decades after retirement cost the country much more in pensions and medical treatment than those who die in their sixties.
And the myth that sin taxes inspire people to give up smoking … If government believes it, why do they bet on the opposite by budgeting for an ever-growing and dependable income stream?
Let’s be honest, the taxman is as dependent on those so-called sin taxes as Snapdragon is on her first cigarette. Treasury don’t want people to stop smoking. We simply can’t afford a 100% nonsmoking population.
Yes, by all means tax cigarettes. They are a luxury and the vile things should be taxed with other silly luxuries such as chocolate or beer, or strip shows or rugby tickets, or satellite TV.
Just stop pretending that you want people to kick the habit. Admit that our state coffers are as addicted to tobacco as a smoker is to nicotine.
Stop calling it a sin tax – rather call it a stupidity tax and add all those other self-destructive little vices.
Mr Nene will be smiling.