Chris Snowdon, author of the Velvet Glove, Iron Fist blog, has just produced a must-read paper for the Adam Smith Institute entitled The Wages of Sin Taxes: The True Cost of Taxing Alcohol, Tobacco and Other “Vices”:
In a report released today, The Wages of Sin Taxes (Download PDF) by Christopher Snowdon, the Adam Smith Institute condemns the government’s decision to increase taxes on cigarettes and alcohol this year and to introduce minimum alcohol pricing.
The report argues that ‘sin taxes’ (taxes on commodities seen as harmful to health) are ineffective in reducing consumption and are not necessary for recouping lost revenue. The taxes are highly regressive and force the poor to pay for the government’s mishandling of public finances.
The taxes don’t work
Cigarette taxes are now so high that increases drive smokers to the black market instead of discouraging consumption or raising more revenue. Sin taxes are more likely to deter moderate users than heavy users, whose demand for cigarettes and alcohol is relatively inelastic.
A heavy smoker or an alcoholic is unlikely to reduce consumption because of a price rise, making sin taxes an unreliable way of reducing consumption or improving public health.
The victims of cigarette and alcohol duty
Sin taxes hit moderate and heavy users alike. Research has shown that previous rises in cigarette tax have made only 2.3% of smokers quit, with the other 97.7% just paying more in tax.
Taxes on cigarettes and alcohol are regressive and hit the poor hardest. The average smoker spends £1660 a year on cigarettes – 20% of the bottom 10%’s income. Sin taxes are the most regressive indirect taxes, as they tend to target products that are disproportionately consumed by the poor.
Minimum alcohol pricing is also deeply regressive, only affecting the cheaper drinks consumed by the poor. Punishing poor people for enjoying a drink or a cigarette exacerbates poverty and treats the poor like children who need to be controlled by the state.