Cigarettes: The San Francisco Tax

A few months ago, on the way to the office, I witnessed a typically DC self-defeating scene.  A man riding on a mini-street sweeper finished the block, stopped to empty the trash in the back, and tossed his cigarette on the ground on his way back to the sweeper.  I was a bit galled – and it speaks to larger problems inherent in the system – but it never occurred to me to tax the cigarettes.  I was leaning more toward “why not take one more step and throw it in the trash” or “care about your job.”

My naivete has since been exposed thanks to an ingenius plan in San Fran to put a massive 33 cent litter tax on all packs of cigarettes.

Next month, Mayor Gavin Newsom plans to ask the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to impose an excise tax of 33 cents on every pack of cigarettes sold locally, justifying it as a way of forcing smokers to pay for cleaning The City’s streets of unsightly cigarette debris.

See, instead of punishing the litterer, you punish the litter – a great way to make a minority of people bear a whole lot more of the tax burden and the services everyone enjoys, not to mention punishing all the smokers who take a sec to put their butts in the proper receptical.  Clearly, this should be extended to anything that comes in a wrapper and fruits that contain cores or pits to bring in a few more bucks.

On the other hand, with more consideration, the city could be missing a golden opportunity here.  Less litter to clean up means less jobs for the city-service men and women of San Francisco.  Not a cash grab, this could be a de-stimlus that puts jobs at risk!  If anything, people should be encouraged to leave their stubs and candy-wrappers willy-nilly throughout the streets providing more jobs in these tough times.

I’m sure these scenarios make just as much sense as saddling the smokers (who aren’t taxed enough, right?) with the missing $500 million in the city’s budget.

Or, they could, you know, fine the people who litter?