One point of agreement on the Sept. 27 editorial “Health side of tobacco tax” — the Japanese government should sell its shares of Japan Tobacco as well as all shares of any other private company it owns. Governments have no business taking stakes in private companies because it will inevitably cause a conflict of interest.
As for the points of disagreement: If Japan is contemplating raising taxes on tobacco, it would be wise to consider the experience of high-tobacco-tax jurisdictions in the United States such as New York. High tobacco taxes will not improve public health, because people will switch to high-tar cigarettes in order to get the same effect from smoking fewer cigarettes. Also, if the tax climbs too high, the government will lose tax revenue to organized crime because of increased sales of lower-priced cigarettes on the black market. Also, high tobacco taxes are a regressive tax on the poor, as smoking rates are higher among low-income people.
By implementing punitive taxes, the government, in principle, is trying to extract a bribe from people who want to engage in a legal, unhealthy activity. If the government truly wanted to improve health outcomes, it would make tobacco illegal. Yet, before we did that, we would have to contemplate whether it is the proper role of government to use legislation to outlaw certain behavior.
In a free society, is being unhealthy a legitimate life choice? For a country with socialized health care, critics would say “no.” Yet, where is the limit? Virtually anything can be consumed in an unhealthy way. Why is tobacco unique?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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