An article in the Jan 25 Eagle, "Smokers face rate hikes," stated that in January, 2014, insurance companies can raise a smoker’s rate as much as 50 percent, and that smoking related deaths now top 450,000 annually, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. This number is three times the yearly combined total number of U.S. deaths from traffic fatalities, homicides, suicides and drug overdoes. Why does our government allow Big Tobacco to remain in business instead of shutting it down, making America healthier and lowering this staggering number of deaths? The reason is money, which breaks down into taxes and profits.
Tax revenue at the federal and state levels is so much that they will not shut off this money faucet, which in turn creates big profits for tobacco board members and shareholders. Let us not forget the shirttail-grabbing benefactors: insurance companies, health care systems, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies whose bottom lines benefit from the smoker’s addiction to Big Tobacco product.
In 1998, the Master Settlement Agreement was signed by 46 state attorneys general calling for $206 billion to be paid out over a period of 25 years. Most of this money was to be used for smoking education and to help those smokers who could not afford health care or by offsetting the costs associated with smoking-related illnesses. Naturally, only a small fraction (down to 7 percent) of the money went to these areas, as each state used the money as it saw fit, usually to help fix budget problems.
Because government did not impose a yearly fixed percentage cost increase in pricing on cigarettes, in the first year alone, cigarettes increased 45 cents a pack to help cover this settlement cost, and on average, $6 a pack in the last 15 years. Who actually paid this fine? Not Big Tobacco, the tobacco-using consumer did. All the government did was allow for price gouging, creating higher tax revenue and more profit. Who is in bed with who here?
It is hard to fathom that our government due to monetary revenue simply does not care about the 450,000 American lives lost yearly to smoking. It is time for our government to stop the injustice, stop passing the buck and at least stop insurance companies from feeding off the smoker’s addiction and raising rates due to the health issues caused by a legal product. It’s our government’s fault for allowing this addictive and harmful product to keep feeding the system and basically allowing Big Tobacco to operate as a legal drug cartel.