Study Analyzes Impact of Measure 50 on Low-Income Families

The Upstream Public Health group has released a report analyzing the effects of Measure 50 on Oregon's low-income families. The report, penned by University of Illinois Professor Frank Chaloupka, ultimately conludes that low-income families will economically benefit from the measure. Chaloupka first analyzes the costs associated with the increased tobacco tax for lower-income families (under 200% of the federal poverty level):

I conservatively estimate that the price responsiveness of smoking among low-income persons in Oregon is 1.5 times that of the overall population, implying that a ten percent price increase will reduce cigarette consumption among low-income persons by six percent. This implies that the tax increase called for by Measure 50 will reduce cigarette consumption among low-income smokers in Oregon by over 11 million packs (12.7 percent) in the coming calendar year. About half of the reduction in cigarette consumption among low-income Oregonians results from 15,400 low-income smokers quitting. Total spending on cigarettes by low-income smokers will rise from just over $354.4 million to almost $374.9 million, an increase of $20.5 million.

Chaloupka then determines the overall economic benefits for lower-income families, resulting in a net benefit of $162.7 million:

The total value of the health insurance benefits provided by Measure 50 for Oregonians in families under 200 percent of the federal poverty level is $183.2 million. This understates the economic benefits to these families that would result from the initiative since it does not account for the economic benefits that accrue from the reduced tobacco use caused by the higher cigarette and other tobacco product excise taxes. Out-of-pocket health care spending will be lower among smokers who quit smoking and do not take up the new health insurance benefits (including spending on care to treat illnesses caused by smoking as well as spending on health care to treat illnesses caused by exposure to secondhand smoke among their children and other non-smoking family members). Incomes will be higher among low-income smokers who quit or cut back in response to the tax increase, given that they will lose less work time to illnesses caused by smoking.

Measure 50 will raise cigarette and other tobacco product excise taxes in Oregon and use most of the revenues generated from the tax increases to subsidize health care for children and adults in low-income families. Based on conservative assumptions, I estimate that low-income Oregonians will spend an additional $20.5 million on cigarettes following the tax increase, while receiving health insurance benefits with a value of $183.2 million, for a net economic benefit of $162.7 million. This almost certainly understates the economic benefits of Measure 50 to low-income Oregonians given that it does not account for other factors, most notably the increased incomes received by those who quit smoking and the additional reductions in smoking resulting from greater spending on the state’s comprehensive tobacco control program.

Read the rest. Discuss.

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    I conservatively estimate that the price responsiveness of smoking among low-income persons in Oregon is 1.5 times that of the overall population

    He's saying that low-income smokers are one and a half times more responsive to price increases than the general population as a whole - meaning that low-income smokers are 1.5 times more likely to quit or cut back compared to the general population?

    Granted that he's including those making twice as much as those at the poverty line as all part of "low-income" status. And that does change things a bit. But not much.

    During 1983--2002, the gap in smoking prevalence between those living below the poverty line and those living at or above it increased from 8.7 percentage points to 10.7 percentage points. In addition, the percentage of ever smokers who had quit was higher for persons at or above the poverty level than for those below the poverty line. As with current smoking prevalence, this gap was larger in 2002 than in 1983 (20.0 percentage points versus 18.7 percentage points).

    Unless I'm misreading something there would appear to be a discrepancy between Chaloupka's numbers and the linked study's numbers. The study shows the exact opposite - that those at or near the poverty rate quit or moderate LESS than the general population.

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    Hmmm... making the cut-off line at 200% of the federal poverty line instead of the poverty line itself may very well be why his figures don't jive with the study's figures.

    Clearly those above the poverty level are much more responsive to price increases than those at or below it. So it stands to reason that not only would doubling the cut-off for "low income" to 200% of the federal poverty line make the entire group look like they will respond more favorably, but it also ignores the fact that those at 300, 400, 500% etcetera of the poverty line will be more responsive still to those increased prices. The net effect will be to further concentrate Oregonians smoking all the more into the lowest socio-economic classes.

  • Adrian R (unverified)

    Uh, that wouldn't make any sense. He's saying that the majority of people quitting because of higher costs are lower income smokers. Hence them accounting for half of those quitting. He did the study he's writing about, so I don't know what figures you're confusing here.

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    Adrian, notice the hyperlink in my first comment.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    so by this reasoning a full 60% of the cost of your glass of beer should be a state tax, since smoking pales as a dollar cost to the state in comparison to alcohol. smoke and mirrors, alcohol is a popular drug so cost to the state is immaterial....

    If you make this argument, you're a flat out cynic and as credible as big tobaccao. seriously, both sides are FOS. These are Oregon's kids, that's where the tax belongs.

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    I wouldn't say that the study you cite and this one are conflicting. Yes, the gap in smoking prevalancy has increased between the classes, but the study you cite doesn't relate that to price. In the next paragraph though, it does note the importance of education level to the number of people who smoke and who have quit. Education level obviously connected with family income level as well. And those aren't the only factors that govern smoking. So to say that the increased gap between those under the poverty line (or 200%) and those above is due entirely to price would be overstating things.

    Chaloupka's study is saying that all other factors constant, lower income families have a higher price elasticity for cigarettes than higher income families, who are more willing to put up with an increase in price. The study you cite doesn't isolate the price factor from the others, so there's not necessarily a conflict.

  • John Reed (unverified)

    Kevin, it would have been easier to overlook the obvious fallacy in your argument if you hadn't followed it through to its final (and ridiculous) conclusion. Chaloupka's numbers are based on his estimate of the relative responsiveness of low income oregonians to the increased price of cigarettes. However, you cite more general numbers relating to the prevalence of smoking in different socioeconomic groups. Your statistics are most definitely influenced by a number of factors beyond the price of cigarettes, such as differing levels of education or tobacco advertising campaigns that target low income consumers. For this reason it is wrong to try to use the statistics you cite to try to refute Chaloupka's study.

    You certainly aren't doing your argument any favors when you conclude that "Clearly those above the poverty level are much more responsive to price increases than those at or below it." That is absurd on its face. Why on earth would people with more disposable income be more responsive to price increases? Obviously, all other things being equal, people with low incomes will be more responsive to any commodity price increase that those with higher incomes because the increase has a greater relative effect on their personal budgets.

  • Calling BS On Chaloupka (unverified)

    Don't make the mistake of getting sucked into what really are handwaving economic arguments in Chaloupka's piece (resting your analysis on elasticity data from 2000 under very different economic conditions without validation really doesn't pass muster), or misread it as a valid basis for health care policy. Chaloupka's entire thrust here is as an academic economist who has been an anti-tobacco advocate for some time, arguing his pet "rational addiction" model that views low-income people as a depersonalized and dehumanized group. In this case, his work models low-income people in dehumanized terms of how they can be forced to comply with the rabidly anti-tobacco norms and values of the socio-economically privileged through punitive taxation. His model is NOT accepted as anything approaching valid, much less humane, clinical or health care policy. And in fact, he has done no academic work I could find (or that he has listed on his CV) in health care reform policy.

    The way to understand the real deceit in this political piece (which published reports say the pro Measure 50 campaign paid between $2000 and $2500 for) is to start from the understanding they were trying to combat the legitimate argument against Measure 50 that it is bad and inequitable health care policy. That is, for those who who gave us this and who are pushing it now, Measure 50 has always been an middle and upperclass crusade against tobacco, with just a little classist contempt for low-income people thrown in. Health insurance for children has been used as tool for selling the anti-tobacco agenda. Measure 50 has not engaged with critics who point out just how bad Measure 50 is as health care policy, primarily because it intended by design to be welfare for the private health insurance industry, and in fact they have quite overtly pursued the approach of attacking such informed critics as pawns of the tobacco industry. Once that is understood, this dishonorable effort by Chaloupka and "Yes On 50" is easily discredited as a failed attempt to distract people from the fundamental mean-spiritedness and unfairness of Measure 50. (What's saddest is how some advocates for health care for children have utterly sold-out their principles in this effort and joining in attacks on those health care advocates who have held onto their principles as, at best, being dupes to the tobacco industry.)

    Measure 50 unfair in the first case because even the purported benefits Chaloupkas claims it offers low-income people as a depersonalized group to make his case are not spread even close to equally across that group. Smokers who don't have children, or whose children have grown, (the most dishonorable "other" in the eyes of Measure 50 supporters) will get no health care coverage, and smokers with children (the equally dishonorable "other") will get less benefit in the way he chooses to define benefit than will non-smokers with children (still the "other" by virtue of being low-income relevant to many in the "Yes On 50" movement, but honorable only to the extent they are obedient to the anti-smoking moralism now more prevalent up the income scale and at the heart of the "rational addiction" model as applied to the anti-tobacco agenda).

    Measure 50 is unfair in the second case, and despicable health care policy because it actually embraces the right-wing, regressive argument that low income people should bear as much of the burden of their children's health care from which the socio-economically privileged can find pseudo-moral rationalizations they can use to step away. Of course, Chaloupka presents NO argument in this paper about good health care policy. This further hints at his misleading technique of citing abstract group benefits when they help make his argument, but individual (frequently non-quantitated) benefits when the punitive emotional appeal against a dehumanized smoker "other" is stronger. That is a second face of the "rational addiction" model which embraces and justifies the expedient of punitive taxes on lower income people who they would effect most as the optimal way to serve the classist basis of the RA model in this case.

    Finally, Measure 50 is unfair in the third case because the actual health care benefits delivered to low income people are far less than they would be if all the revenues were actually put towards the most economically and clinically beneficial way of delivering health care, rather than to a corrupt private health insurance industry. You have to remember the Governor, the Democratic majority, and virtually all of the lead proponents of Measure 50 dismissed alternatives that did that, such as rebuilding the OHP as permitted by SCHIP. It is politically advantageous, and fully compatible with the anti-tobacco political effort, to trade off health care for children in exchange for benefit to the private health insurance industry if that furthers the classist, punitive, anti-tobacco agenda of those like Chaloupka and Measure 50 proponents.

    Significantly, if we just adopt Chaloupka's approach here of citing group benefits, we see that the higher income people who tend to benefit more from the business of insurance would get an independent economic return on the tax they pay in the form of indirect and direct income. Since in the end everybody receives a net benefit, which for lower income people mainly derives from the federal matching funds but for higher income people also derives from free rent of public money by private insurance providers) the real question is who really benefits more and who ends up bearing more of real costs? Chaloupka carefully avoids doing a full economic analysis of the benefit upper income folks derive from this tax. That is a relevant macro-economic question, and it is relevant because his attempt here to support his "rational addiction" model is in part based on an appeal to punitive, anti-smoking emotions that low income people will reduce their smoking more precisely because they will feel $1.00/pack more than those who by virtue of their socio-economic status tend to smoke less and receive income from increased diversion of public funds into the private health insurance industry.

    Chaloupka's work is only convincing to those who can be misled because they don't actually understand it. And that is what "Yes On 50" intends because they know the truth about the true, fundamental unfairness of Measure 50 is something they can't answer.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    Calling BS is clearly working for the anti-50 campaign. His comment probably isn't even what he personally thinks. He's paid to state those points.

    I'm willing to discuss and argue with Kevin who 1) seems pretty damned smart and 2) is a real person stating what he believes. I'm not willing to even read Calling BS's whole post.

  • CBOC (unverified)

    Calling BS is clearly working for the anti-50 campaign. His comment probably isn't even what he personally thinks. He's paid to state those points.

    Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.

    How appropriate, though, in response to an argument that Chaloupka is a hired zealot whose class-based "rational addiction" theory bloodlessly models the effects that cause addicts to perpetuate their addiction as a positive economic return and argues that the best social response to addiction is the market-based world-view of increasing the real $$$ cost on those who it will cause the most negative economic return.

    A prime example of how the "Yes On 50" crowd knows they can't deal with the fact that Measure 50 is truly bad health care policy, in large part because of the condescending, mean-spirited, unfairness of it as argued above, and instead launch:

    attacks on those health care advocates who have held onto their principles as, at best, being dupes to the tobacco industry.

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    The study you cite doesn't isolate the price factor from the others, so there's not necessarily a conflict.

    Nick, it doesn't have to isolate the price factor. The price factor is a given simply by tracking the modern movement towards taxing cigs both as a means of raising funds and as a means of discouraging smoking.

    I don't see any way to parse the overall trends shown in the report I cited in a way that doesn't contradict what Chaloupka claims. Even raising the cut-off point to 200% of the poverty level, which certainly would yield seemingly less regressive numbers, wouldn't match with what he's claiming.

  • CBOC (unverified)

    A phrase was left out above from the phrase class-based "rational addiction" theory. It was supposed to be particular class-based application of "rational addiction" theory.

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    Why on earth would people with more disposable income be more responsive to price increases?

    Express amazement, disagreement or whatever else moves you. But the fact remains that the report I cited very clearly shows people with more disposable income as more responsive to price increases.

    Personally I don't find it surprising in the least. Poor folks have a long and sordid history of making poor and even self-defeating economic choices. Which is why payday lenders became such a big industry and why the legislature had to intercede on behalf of a demonstrably vulnerable class. Seriously, how many "people with more disposable income" do you honestly believe were paying 300% interest at to a payday loan shark rather than paying 12% interest on their credit card? "People with more disposable income" absolutely were responsive to that price increase. Why should they behave any differently with respect to any other price pressure?

    Keep in mind that there is a very strong corrolation between people with more disposable incomes and people with advanced educations. Obviously with an advanced education comes, in theory at least, a much higher degree of savvy in general. Why should it surprise anyone that an individual with a college degree would make better economic choices than an individual who dropped out of high school?

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    Bert, thank you for the kind words. I sincerely hope that it goes without saying that I don't have a problem with the government stepping in to insure healthcare for the least among us, nor do I have a problem with that being funded with a new tax.

    What I do have a problem with is the regressivity of M50's funding scheme, which I find both morally and ethically problematic, and to a lesser degree I have a problem with the fact that M50 doesn't address root causes on either side of the equation of poverty/lack of healthcare coverage. At best M50 is a stop-gap measure.

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    Nick, it doesn't have to isolate the price factor. The price factor is a given simply by tracking the modern movement towards taxing cigs both as a means of raising funds and as a means of discouraging smoking.

    I'm not disputing that prices have gone up or that the gap between well to do and lower income families hasn't widened. I'm saying that A)correlation is not causation, and B)The study makes no effort to prove causation.

    I'll put it this way, when you're doing a scientific study, there's your control group, in which you hold all factors constant, and then there's your subject group, in which you change the independent variable (cigarette prices), but hold all other factors constant. That's because if you change multiple factors at the same time you cannot prove which one was responsible for any change in the dependent variable (tobacco usage). Since 1983 price is only one of many factors that have changed; education level, social views of tobacco, the availability and effectiveness of tobacco prevention programs, and the overall state of knowledge about the health effects of tobacco, are but a few. Out of these the report only isolates education level, which happens to have a large effect.

    So lets assume for a second that as Chaloupka states, lower income families are more responsive. So prices since 83 have gone up, meaning that the gap between lower and higher income families shrinks. But then all the other factors come into play. The changes in education levels since 83 mean that more higher income families have quit smoking than lower income families, counterbalancing the price increase. Then social factors, come into play, maybe its less acceptable to smoke among higher income families than lower, so once again some higher income families quit more than lower incomes families quit. And then you get other factors coming into play, which lead more higher income families to quit than lower. So, all of those factors contribute to the overall changes since 83, and even though more lower income smokers have quit because of only the price increase, that fact gets lost in the data because there are a dozen other factors that lead more higher income smokers to quit, thus widening the gap. That's why you do have to isolate the price factor, and that's why your report is not relevant to the discussion. If I turned in a research paper at school trying to make your argument with your evidence, my professor would fail me.

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    Nick, if the price factor were as he claims then it would be reflected in the data whether it was isolated for that or not.

    Surely a trend one way ought to be reflected in overall statistics. That the overall trend for those living in poverty is clearly the opposite of what Chaloupka claims seems to indicate rather strongly that his claim is dubious.

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    The relative responsiveness argument is more or less irrelevant.

    The number of adult smokers expected to quit due to this tax increase -- according to the figures from Tobacco Free Kids -- is about 15,000 (Chaloupka predicts 22,000). That's out of half a million smokers.

    Even if Chaloupka's correct about the greater responsiveness of low-income smokers to the increase, you're talking about a group as a behavior (smoking) that is "increasingly concentrated in less educated, lower income populations" (in Chaloupka's words). So a large portion of the remaining ~480,000 smokers are still low-income residents. Chaloupka's estimate is 244,000 low-income adult smokers, a figure he pegs at 46% of all smokers. Sure poor families will be the recipients of most of the M50 benefits, but other poor families will be the ones paying for a lot of that.

    The proportional percentages are irrelevant when the absolute number is relatively small. Chaloupka's higher predicted number of tax-incentived quitters is still less than 5% of the total.

  • CBSOC (unverified)

    One has to go to the actual report, not the incomplete newspaper summary to find the core of the problem with Chaloupka's analysis (and why this is a paid-for political hit piece):

    Focusing on the population below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (the low-income population defined above), the Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office (2007) estimates that 59,993 of the 68,000 eligible children will eventually be covered by health insurance under the program created by Measure 50. The value of this benefit for each child is $160 per month, or $1,920 per year (Office of the Governor, 2006). Given this, the total value of the benefit for the children in low-income families will amount to $115.2 million per year. Following the same approach and accounting for the reduced subsidy as income rises, families with incomes between 200 and 350 percent of the federal poverty level will receive health insurance benefits amounting to $29.6 million.

    1) Chaloupka omits in this key paragraph estimating "benefit" that is federal SCHIP matching funds that are the primary source of additional economic value injected into the program. He carefully states that his number is "health INSURANCE benefits" (ie. private insurance policy premium costs) and not true quantitable, health care benefits.

    2) Aside from his political agenda, the reason probably is because he cites the Governor's press release and associated materials as the basis for a $160/child health insurance benefit. That is in fact the maximum premium it is estimated that a family would be charged for private health insurance through this plan. That number has no meaning in terms of the actual health care benefit delivered to children: If forced to offer coverage at that figure in the face of health insurance cost inflation several times the total rate of inflation, private insurance companies will decrease health care services, the only type of positive utility that matters to children of low-income parents here, as necessary. All of you who supposedly care about children saw Sicko, and how it demonstrated the essential fraud against people, and low-income people in particular, of misrepesenting health insurance as health care, didn't you?

    3) Looking at it another way, Chaloupka does not study the real economic question about the true economic value returned to low-income people and "the commons" is wasting $1920/child/year in an economically inefficient and predatory private health insurance system, rather than alternatives like expanding a public program like OHP up the income ladder as permitted by SCHIP that many on the "Yes On 50" side worked against in the legislature. He does not take up the real question whether this system is a misuse of SCHIP funds, in the sense of lost positive utility to children and the "commons", if good health care policy were the goal, because providing benefit to private health insurance was ALWAYS part of the plan in Measure 50 (and is accordance with the class-based values he explicitly expresses in his application of "rational addiction.")

    This further demonstrates that the primary social value he and "Yes On 50" seek to further here is a class-based anti-tobacco agenda. As the true unfairness arguments above demonstrate, this is a punitive agenda which intentionally inequitably distributes benefits in accordance with the self-serving values of a socio-economically privileged class who depersonalize and dehumanize those who do not share their relative privilege.

    His unsupported, unquantitated handwaving political arguments about general reductions in health care costs, introduced solely for emotional effect, would get this paper rejected as economic analysis in any credible academic forum.

  • andy (unverified)

    The study shows poor people who smoke paying in $20M but poor people as a group getting $180M in benefits. Looks to me like the middle class gets the shaft. So $160M is taken from people who earned it and given to those who didn't.

    I haven't seen anyone talk about the inflation of health care insurance from plans like this. Once you give the health insurance industry another $200M a year we'll see even higher insurance rates for everyone else.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)


    I think we agree on almost everything about M50. I agree that it is at best a stop-gap measure. I agree that is does not address the root causes of healthcare access for the poor. I don't know whether it will decrease the number of smokers and, honestly, I don't care very much. Eliminating a vice from society is a different issue -- and one that is on much shakier moral ground.

    I am less concerned about the regressiveness of the tax than you are -- largely because I believe the tobacco companies will eat the lion's share of the tax. And I ended up voting yes because right now it's the only solution on the table and I believe it's better than nothing.

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    Chuck, I agree with your suggestion that alcohol is another great cause of economic and human suffering in Oregon. I support M50 because it shifts some of the burden on smoking induced heath costs from the public at large to the smokers who create the problem, and releases money for kids who need hesalth care but for no fault of their own cant get it. Likewise alcohol causes a great deal of problems, and drinkers should pay a reasonable share of mitigation money. Here is my challenge to you: Please contact your Oregon State Representitive and Senator and tell them you support a reasonable increase to the taxes on beer, wine and spirits, as you recognise that like cigarettes, they place an extraordinry burdon on our State's finances and society in general. Tell them you you don't want them to accept money or other compensation/junkets from the tobacco and liquor lobbys and you would be proud to make a contribution to their campaigns if they are willing to propose increaseing booze taxes to pay for the costs to your community. Tell them you are willing to speak up for a reasonable increase in such taxes to protect our citizens from problems caused by alcohol abuse. Write letters to your newspapers. RegGuardApl07

    Rest assured that when this eventually comes up in the Leg, the booze lobby will fight it tooth and nail with misleading industry-financed groups like the Beer Drinkers Union for Fairness and Equality or some other baloney.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Hi Kevin, I've got a study, too!

    "In general, lower-income smokers are not only more likely to start smoking but also less likely to quit than higher-income smokers. [...] One of the best ways to prompt lower-income smokers to quit is by raising cigarette prices through cigarette tax increases. Numerous studies have documented the fact that raising the price of cigarettes directly reduces both adult and youth smoking, particularly among low-income smokers. Most notably, smokers with family incomes at or below the national median are four times as likely to quit because cigarette price increases as those with higher incomes."

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    Their conclussion doesn't follow from the facts - facts identical to those cited by the report I linked to... Probably because they both used the exact same sources.

    Everyone knows that cig prices raised and continued rising through the period cited in both reports. Both reports cite the fact that wealthier smokers quite at a greater rate than those in poverty during that same exact time period. Thus, the conclussion that rising prices leads to a higher cessation rate among the poor is directly contradicted by the very facts cited in the report.

    If that conclussion were borne out by the data then we would see poor smokers quitting at an increasing rate over the time period studied. But we don't. We see the exact, polar opposite.

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    At an increasing rate compared to wealthier smokers that is...

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    Who is really waving hand here?

    Do we have any reason to suppose that price elasticity would change in six years?

    My gut reaction is that a low income consumer's price elasticity to cigarettes, a relatively low cost and addictive product, really wouldn't have changed much in the last six years. I don't know what "very different economic conditions" you are thinking of.

    If you think C is wrong, isn't the onus on you to demonstrate that elasticity figures based on 2000 are not comparable to 2006?

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    James quotes:

    One of the best ways to prompt lower-income smokers to quit is by raising cigarette prices through cigarette tax increases. Numerous studies have documented the fact that raising the price of cigarettes directly reduces both adult and youth smoking, particularly among low-income smokers.

    Which would be fine, except as I keep pointing out, the amount of the tax increase proposed by M50 is expected by proponents of the measure to reduce overall consumption by only 3%.

    If the amount of the tax increase was larger, a lot more people would be likely to quit smoking. But at its current level it will -- as Tobacco Free Kids puts it in their report -- produce a stream of revenue for the state that is "Stable and Predictable for Years to Come". That wouldn't be the case if they expected smoking consumption to continue to go down.

  • CBSOC (unverified)


    Who is really waving hand here?

    I'm going to assume this was meant in the spirit of academic joust, because I believe you are a better scholar than that paul g.

    First of all, let's be clear what I asserted as an intellectually responsible critic. Namely that his argument is not proven, not that it is disproven. More on that below.

    Do we have any reason to suppose that price elasticity would change in six years?

    We certainly do have reason to suppose this. Elasticity in this case is a property, and in fact just a statistic in practice, of the sub-population of people who smoke or who are likely to smoke. Papers in 2000 rely on data that is nearly a decade old (1998-1999?) compared to when the tax would take effect (2008) and both the social mores and economic conditions which are variables that contribute to selecting the population of smokers and those likely to smoke have changed radically in a decade. I'm not going to go into more detail how here unless "Yes On 50" wants to pay me $2000 or more to tell them with intellectual honesty why they got taken when they spent their last $2000.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but I would observe that a decade ago you would rightly be considered a total prick if you said some of the things I've heard said in public towards smokers in the last year or so. And you rightly be considered a selfish, right-wing pig if you made some of the arguments about low income smokers paying for their own children as I've heard some supposed progressives say here.

    My gut reaction is that a low income consumer's price elasticity to cigarettes, a relatively low cost and addictive product, really wouldn't have changed much in the last six years.

    I have to be straightforward here and say that your gut reaction about an individual, addicted smoker viz a viz elasticity is a logical fallacy known as "Hasty Generalization". As already noted, as applied by Chaloupka, elasticity is a statistic of a population that includes people with varying genetic predispositions to addiction and moral attitudes towards dealing with addiction. As noted above, there is able reason to suppose your gut reaction is just about as reliable for characterizing that statistic as many gut reactions are (not).

    I don't know what "very different economic conditions" you are thinking of.

    1998-1999 was just about the peak of the Clinton era of relative economic good times. Lower income people as a group, defined by the criteria and in the manner as Chaloupka does, generally perceived themselves as doing much better economically than they are in 2007-2008. It is possible that much if not most of the elastic demand has been driven out of the marketplace in the intervening 10 years as those whose personal elasticity is higher reduced or quit smoking as their personal economic conditions worsened.

    If you think C is wrong, isn't the onus on you to demonstrate that elasticity figures based on 2000 are not comparable to 2006?

    Chaloupka's argument rests in part on the ceterus paribus hypothesis that elasticity is roughly the same now as it was estimated to be in 2000. It is up to him to demonstrate that this hypothesis is true, or at least beyond reason to doubt, for him to assert his conclusion to be true. I've already commented why there is credible reason to suppose it is not, therefore I have met my burden of proof intellectually that his argument is not proven.

    I have also met my burden of proof that people who run with an unproven argument have no argument themselves.

    Of course, the second part of Chaloupka's argument is that the economic value delivered to low income people, in exchange for real $$$ out of their collective pockets, should be measured in terms of health insurance benefits rather than actual health care, even though the conversion between the two is determined by the selfish business goals of the private health insurance industry and (aided and abetted by the corporate health care industry.)

  • CBSOC (unverified)

    I have no idea if I share the political or personal values of darrelplant. I can say as a requirement of intellectual honesty, and unlike "Yes On 50", that he has put his finger squarely on one of true frauds of their argument:

    When it is to their advantage to inflame certain voters with an anti-tobacco diatribe, they say that it is that the tax (in accordance with their purpose) will have a significant punitive effect that will decrease smoking.

    When it is to their advantage to counter questions voters have about the idea of basing health care policy on the very idea of a tax base you are trying to decrease, they say that smokers will continue to smoke at just about the same rate as now.

    And finally, when pushed that they can't be arguing both sides as the principle why someone should vote for Measure 50, and that the numbers are fuzzy at best, they dismissively claim that just about the right number of truly disgraceful hardcore addicts will keep smoking to keep the program running that will deliver to those hardcore addicts the amount of health care they deserve (namely NONE in the view of the "Yes On 50" proponents).

    Funny thing is, they don't seem to believe that most of the voters they think these arguments will sway actually have very admirable feelings about other people, much less about actually providing quality, sustainable health care for anyone except themselves. The truly interesting question is this: Does the "Yes On 50" side share that unadmirable view of voters they are trying to gain for their side, or are they just content to cynically take advantage of it? They certainly have not repudiated it.

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    And you rightly be considered a selfish, right-wing pig if you made some of the arguments about low income smokers paying for their own children as I've heard some supposed progressives say here.

    Finally!! Thank you!

    It's seriously been bugging me why I felt like a voice in the wilderness about this at a blog that purports to be a place for progressives to gather at.

    All of the stated goals for M50 are laudable and worthy IMHO, including that of diminishing the prevelance of smoking. But the funding scheme underpinning M50 is... craven!

  • CSBOC (unverified)

    Maybe instead of

    (namely NONE in the view of the "Yes On 50" proponents"),

    I actually should have said

    (namely NONE in the view of the "Yes On 50" proponents", who believe the money that could have helped provide actual health care for those addicts actually should go into the truly "deserving" private health insurance industry as business income, since that is what Chaloupka and they argue is the benefit here.)

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Obviously, Professor Frank Chaloupka is in the employ of the damned progressive forces who conspire to tax the poor in order to increase the size of government bureaucracies. And if those uninsured children had any conscience, they'd spend there meager allowances on smokes to pass out among the hacking poor.

  • (Show?)
    Obviously, Professor Frank Chaloupka is in the employ of the damned progressive forces who conspire to tax the poor in order to increase the size of government bureaucracies.

    Tom, I view it more as that the progressives who support M50 are similar to the progressives who supported the Oregon Lottery 25 years ago despite plenty of evidence that it would draw dollars disproportionately from (a minority of) people in the lower-income brackets. It had nothing to do with increasing state government, but it was a method of raising revenue that took some pressure off of raising general revenue through income tax increases. What started off as a supposed attempt to capture revenue from existing backroom gambling has become a heavily-marketed program that attempts to draw more people into playing lottery games. Why? Because revenue from lottery profits take pressure off of any need to address shortcomings in general revenue methods. That's going to be the same for tobacco tax proceeds from M50. And since both the lottery and the tobacco tax disproportionately draw money from the lower income ranks, even if many of the benefits of those programs go to the same people, they absolve people in other income brackets from contributing to the programs. That's just squeezing money around between low-income groups.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    This debate is interesting -- not because of the ideas, but because of the dynamics. Heading into 2008 I expect we'll see the same dynamics over and over. We would do well to recognize what is happening and to change the way we approach debate on candidates and issues.

    Here's what I see happening in this post. Kevin is arguing in good faith and CBSOC is not. Kevin is stating and explaining his actual objection to M50, which seems to come down to "I believe the taxing mechanism is more harmful than the program it funds is good." That's an opinion I do not share, but I respect.

    CBSOC is tossing up whatever he can to distract /confuse/obfuscate. He's using all sorts of rhetorical tactics, the goal of which is not to convince the other side, but to prolong the argument indefinitely without admitting defeat. He is debating for sport, not arguing in good faith. Here’s how you can tell the difference: if you respond to Kevin about one of his points, he responds to you about that same point. If you respond to CBSOC about one of his points, he raises other, unrelated objections.

    Put another way, if you could demonstrate to Kevin that the program is really good or that the funding mechanism isn’t that bad, then Kevin would probably change his mind. If you demonstrate to CBSOC that a study based on 1998-99 data is still relevant, he would immediately find some other objection. It’s a game he can play forever, because there will always be something he can pretend to object to.

    I don’t know CBSOC’s motives. I think I was wrong that he works for the anti-50 campaign. Maybe he’s a Reed freshman or lives in his parents’ basement or something. But there are a lot of people whose motives are to create noise so progressive messages cannot be heard.

    When Rush Limbaugh responds to a damning article about the White House by attacking the reporter for having donated money to Al Gore in 2000, he isn’t honestly trying to show that the article should not be believed. He is trying to blunt the article by changing the topic. Suddenly the debate is about whether a reporter’s political donations should affect his credibility. And it doesn’t matter whether Rush’s allegations turn out to be true or false. Rush has succeeded if we talk about the donations instead of the original article.

    What do we do with argument-like-noise-makers? I’m not sure. It doesn’t work to treat them as though they are interested in arriving at the truth. They’re not. Perhaps it is sufficient to ignore them. Perhaps it would work to say you don’t believe they hold the view they espouse.


  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    We both favor progressive taxation. I believe almost all Democratic officeholders do as well. The problem is with those of other party, who refuse to increase taxes on the wealthy, and with the voters of Oregon, who have put the kicker and revenue raising supermajority provisions into the constitution. Faced with lack of services, Democrats supported the lottery and support the tobacco tax.

    Also, tobacco tax is quite different than general sales tax and the lottery. One of its purposes is to reduce smoking and the problems that causes. It is a "sin" tax, and in this case, the sinners tend to have lower than average incomes.

  • (Show?)
    One of its purposes is to reduce smoking and the problems that causes.

    The proponents of M50 have predicted a 3-5% reduction in overall tobacco consumption as a result of the $0.84 tax increase.

    When people proposing such a tax make the claim that it will "reduce" smoking, I give them the same credence I would if George W. Bush tomorrow announced that he was recalling 5-8,000 troops from Iraq, which would be roughly 3-5% of the 160,000 troops currently there. While that would be great for thousands of returnees, I wouldn't consider it a reduction of any significance.

    The Democrats in the Legislature have had a quarter of a century since the bad days of the early '80s spawned the lottery to try to fix the system. They've continually gone after the cheap fix rather than making the case for a reinstatement of progressive income taxation. After this long, the fault can't be laid completely on the GOP. Certainly, the discussions on the subject of the tobacco tax here have exposed just how committed "progressives" are to progressive taxation.

  • (Show?)
    (Democrats have) continually gone after the cheap fix rather than making the case for a reinstatement of progressive income taxation. After this long, the fault can't be laid completely on the GOP. Certainly, the discussions on the subject of the tobacco tax here have exposed just how committed "progressives" are to progressive taxation.


    When Kulongoski first rolled out the "Healthy Kids" plan it had the same funding scheme that it has today. There was no attempt to fund it any other way. Placing the blame on Republicans is nothing more than demagoguery.

    It's very telling that Oregon Democrats continue to willingly dance to the tune dictated by a mere 36% of registered voters.

  • (Show?)

    CBSOC almost certainly is the same person who has consistently been advancing similar arguments as "anonymous" on M50 threads for weeks if not months now. He or she is a great deal more than a "noisemaker." Bert Lowry is quite wrong, literally: CBSOC exactly responded to Paul Gronke's question about price elasticity, for instance.

    The main difference between CBSOC and Kevin that I see is CBSOC is willing to and does go much further in ad hominem attacks on the alleged motives and intellectual honesty of a very smeary category s/he calls "the M50 crowd" and more generally on people who respond to the power of the private insurance industry in a way other than that CBSOC would prefer.

    It is too bad, because it gives cover to the ad hominem attacks on him/her, like Bert Lowry's two. It is too bad because it also mucks up the clarity of already long analytic aspects of CBSOC's posts, which far from being noise-making are highly substantive and deserve attention, perhaps even more for longer-term debates over health-care policy than for M50.

    Pretty clearly CBSOC is not any sort of right-wing troll, but a leftist, likely socialist or green/socialist of some stripe, like myself, who may or may not participate in Democratic Party politics, depending on what stripe. Pretty clearly CBSOC cares passionately about injustice in the health system as it relates to social inequality more generally, and is very angry about the current state of affairs.

    Why it is so hard for some people on this list to acknowledge that there are sincere people to the left of them who hold different "progressive" positions than they do out of good and honest motives I don't understand. The argument that such people in some simple way are just doing the bidding of the tobacco companies or the far right is of exactly the same stripe as claims by some communists at various points that liberals or others they disagreed with were "objectively fascist." It is also of the same stripe as arguments that there is no significant difference at all between the two main political parties (a different question than whether the two party duopoly excludes from consideration policies and whole questions that ought to be part of our public debates).

    Having taught Reed freshman, I can say it is vanishingly unlikely that CBSOC is one. Such stupid accusations are just another form of noisemaking, Bert. It lowers the content to noise ratio here just as much CBSOC's unevidenced ad hominem's do, and a great deal more than the actual substance of CBSOC's arguments do.

    My own guess at this point is that she/he is either a public health worker or other health worker or an untenured academic, whose employment could be threatened if the full extent of his/her views were known. Or it could be someone who works for an organization, say perhaps a trade union like SEIU, which has substantively different positions emanating from the top which CBSOC is either obligated not to contradict in public or hopes to change from the inside or both, whether or not her/his employment would be jeopardized.

    Or CBSOC may someone with political affiliations or possibly specifically known personal identity that he/she believes would lead to a different sort of ad hominem dismissal in these precincts.

    It also is possible that CBSOC wishes it were the case that posting anonymously would focus attention more on the substance of the argument, to the point of ignoring the empirically obvious fact that anonymity actually generates and licenses a whole slew of ad hominem attacks.

    CBSOC in the past has also simply claimed a right of privacy comparable to the privacy of the voting booth, if I am right in thinking it is the same person as "anonymous." I don't actually think that comparison is apt, but if we are going to discuss motives, I take that statement at face value, though perhaps not complete and not something I understand well.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)


    I agree with some of what you said and disagree with some. And ironically, I changed the subject. Now we're talking about something unrelated to the initial post. However…

    I agree that CBSOC is probably not a right-wing troll. And I agree that there is not (and should not be) any sort of enforced progressive orthodoxy. I like rational debate and the strength of progressives (compared to conservatives) is we're reasonable people who can change our minds when facts demand it. Well, that and we’re cuter.

    I disagree that CBSOC is arguing in good faith. I disagree that he directly addresses arguments made against him. I disagree that his only problem is ad hominem attacks. He does not state his reasons for his position, he merely disputes any reason that other people state for their positions.

    In the Paul Gronke case you mention, CBSOC does not respond to the elasticity issue directly. He changes the subject to “rules for debate” and basically says, "the study must prove it's assumptions beyond any doubt, otherwise the whole study is unproven." That may be true in high school forensics, but as a standard for debate on BlueOregon it’s ridiculous. It’s epistemological sophistry. CBSOC’s next step, I suppose, would be “prove to me that cigarettes even exist.”

    When CBSOC says “you pro-50 guys,” it’s more than just an ad hominem attack. He uses a rhetorical device that sounds like an argument, but isn’t. He says, “since you pro-50 guys say x then you must admit y, otherwise your argument fails.” It’s false for the obvious reason, but there’s more. He tries to show there is a fundamental inconsistency in the opponent’s position that can be used to dismiss the opponent. His purpose is not to explain, convince or question. His purpose is to shut the opponent down on a (false) technicality.

    I really don’t know what CBSOC’s motives are. He (she?) may think that M50 is such bad policy that anything is justified in order to stop it. His feelings may have been hurt when someone jumped on him and accused him of being a right-wing troll. But the point is, his behavior is no different than the right-wing obfuscators that we have to deal with whenever big elections come up. I’d like to figure out a more effective ways of dealing with these people. I don’t think what we’re doing now works.

    <h2>I’d like to continue this conversation off-line. If you’re willing, send me an email with “BlueOregon” in the title. You can find my email address by following the Bert Lowry link to my website.</h2>
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