05/03/2012 05:13 pm ET Updated Jul 03, 2012

The Moral Tax

From a moral standpoint, there is no question that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney should retract opposition to the Obama Administration's 61-cent federal excise tax increase on cigarettes. For starters, the revenue from this "onerous" tax is used to help fund health coverage for uninsured children.

The GOP candidate's opposition recently surfaced when an aide identified the 61-cent hike per pack as one of the 19 tax increases that the Romney campaign is lambasting President Obama for foisting on the American public.

It is true enough that the modern Republican Party's political image is shaped largely by its antipathy to raising taxes, and Governor Romney is holding true to form. But anyone who advocates repealing Obama's 2009 cigarette excise tax hike is risking serious ethical condemnation as well as fiscally pragmatic-oriented criticism.

Allocating the estimated six billion dollars generated by the cigarette tax increase to provide health insurance for uninsured children is not the levy's only moral justification. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), tobacco-related illnesses saddle the nation with an additional $96 billion in medical treatment costs, much of which is covered by publicly funded federal and state programs. It is also estimated that chronic ailments from smoking result in another $97 billion annually in lost worker productivity.

The least tobacco users can do is help to compensate for some of the extra medical costs their destructive habit has inflicted upon the country. Besides being in principle a compassionate thing to do, there is a very specific moral imperative for smokers' tax money to go towards uninsured kids' health insurance. Youngsters' not fully developed immune and respiratory systems are especially vulnerable to second-hand cigarette smoke, which is estimated to be responsible for between $1.4 and $4 billion in childhood-related medical expenses annually.

Hopefully, Romney won't latch on to the macabre (and specious) argument based on actuarial tables, namely that smokers die from tobacco-related diseases on average 10 years earlier than non-smokers, and as a consequence, reduce medical costs to the nation.

Non-smokers do live longer, but that means they also pay taxes longer to cover treatments. Furthermore, it is usually less strain on the Treasury when routine health costs are spread out over a greater period of time. By contrast, smokers often require extremely costly, concentrated medical intervention for acute chronic conditions that may linger for years,

The staff assistant who spoke in behalf of Romney complained that Obama's excise tax increase costs each of the nation's 45 million smokers on average an extra $265 annually, and he voiced concern about how that would effect unemployed tobacco users. Well, unemployed smokers are entitled to unemployment insurance, just like every other jobless individual. Beyond that, society should not be required to subsidize a destructive addiction that is a universal health hazard. As it is, the CDC reports that the taxpayer's fiscal burden resulting from support of programs to treat smoking-related diseases averages out to $616 per household (so maybe the cigarette tax should be raised even more!).

In the final analysis, can Romney conclude anything other than providing tax relief to nicotine addicts at the expense of children's health is a losing Election Year proposition?