Wednesday, November 26, 2008

American Cancer Society Spamming Utahns With Unwanted Robo-Calls Lobbying For An Increase In Cigarette Taxes To $2 Per Pack

Despite the fact that, according to this Deseret News report, Utah has the lowest rate of lung cancer of the 50 states, cancer death rates nationally have dropped 1.8 percent per year, and the number of new cancer cases has also dropped by 0.8 percent per year, this is not good enough for the squarebritches at the American Cancer Society. So they are interrupting the dinner hour of 262,000 Utah households with automated spam calls to nag them into supporting a proposed state cigarette tax increase. Media story also published by the Deseret News. Newer story just published by KSL Channel 5.

Automated "robo-calls" featuring retired KSL-TV anchor Dick Nourse, a two-time cancer patient himself, are asking Utahns identified as regular voters to contact legislators to support nearly tripling Utah's cigarette tax from the current 69.5 cents per pack to $2. During the call, Nourse invites listeners to visit the group's website ( to support the cigarette tax increase. The entire phone message can be heard HERE, in MP3 format.

Michael Siler, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network in Utah, brags that they're running this almost as if it were a political campaign. However, Danny Harris, grassroots relations manager for the group, explained that the campaign is intended to counter tobacco lobbyists who have a lot more money than they do. [Ed. Note: Of course, I'm not aware that any tobacco lobbyists have been spamming 262,000 Utah households with robo-calls urging them to oppose the proposed tax hike. They're more respectful of personal privacy.]

Danny Harris also claims they did some "polling" which allegedly shows that "well over 80 percent of Utahns" favor raising the cigarette tax by $1 or more per pack. But they do not reveal when the poll was taken or what questions were asked. Did they use push-polling? The school voucher advocates blew their case last year by using disgusting push-polling tactics.

And more telephonic spamming is planned. Harris said the robo-calls are just the first step of its new campaign strategy. Later calls — by live volunteers — will try to identify people in key districts who strongly support the tax increase, and they may be asked for help.

The anti-smoking group is working with Sen. Allen Christensen (R-North Ogden) on drafting legislation for the tax increase, and intends for the $48.7 million a year he projects the increase will generate to go to health care or cancer research. On the House side, Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield) said he is also working on a bill to raise the cigarette tax to about $2 a pack. He unsuccessfully sought last year to raise the tax by 50 cents a pack. These efforts were discussed at greater length in this previous post.

The anti-smoking lobbyists repeat the tired old canard about how non-smokers are allegedly paying health care costs for smokers. They claim that the 88 percent of Utahns who don't smoke are probably paying the majority of health care costs for those who do. However, what they don't tell you is that most smokers who have health and/or life insurance actually pay a higher smokers rate for their insurance. So the subsidization argument is overstated. But then again, the American Cancer Society has a vested corporate interest in keeping the anti-smoking fires burning, not only for organizational self-perpetuation, but to keep the donation spigot cranked wide open.

I wonder why these anti-smoking lobbyists aren't equally outraged over the fact that Utahns end up paying much of the health care costs for illegal aliens who get medical care in the state and can't pay for it themselves?

Utah's cigarette tax of 69.5 cents a pack is currently the 34th highest among the 50 states and District of Columbia, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. The highest cigarette tax is $2.58 a pack in New Jersey, and the cheapest is just 7 cents in South Carolina. Ten states have cigarette taxes that are at least $2 a pack.

Oh, there's one more problem with the use of cigarette taxes to discourage smoking. They're self-sunsetting. This means that as people quit, the tax revenues decrease. Government is notorious for growing into new taxes. What happens when the tax revenues decrease? Will the state cut superfluous services, or will they reach out their hands to taxpayers for yet another tax?

Taxation should be used strictly to raise needed revenue, and never to change behavior.


Shaun said...

If you have the audio of these calls, please let me know.

Shaun Dakin

Deseret Dawg said...

Sorry Shaun, I'm unable to capture the audio of such a call. However, the KSL website may eventually post the audio, since it involves one of their former reporters.

If I find a link to an audio, I'll update my post.

Deseret Dawg said...

Shaun - found the audio of the phone message, posted HERE.