Smart TaxesSmart Taxes

Don't like tobacco taxes? Grow your own

New Yorker combats rising 'sin taxes' by growing tobacco in her Brooklyn yard.

By Kay Bell Feb 25, 2011 6:15PM

Sin taxes have always been a popular way to raise money.


They tend to adversely affect a relatively small group, which makes the legislators enacting the taxes, and the majority of folks who don't have to pay them, more comfortable.


They are usually presented as "it's for everyone's good" campaigns. The catastrophic results of the sin are emphasized and at least part of the new tax money is targeted to programs tied to the specific bad habit. 


That's the case with cigarettes. When tobacco taxes are hiked, the health dangers to both smokers and breathing bystanders are regularly cited. And the tax money typically goes to fund some sort of health-related program.


In the short term, a tobacco tax hike can cause state revenue problems. The National Conference of State Legislatures says that such tax increases can result in stockpiling of cigarettes prior to the implementation of the tax, producing a temporary drop in sales immediately following the tax increase.


And at least one New York woman has gone beyond simply stockpiling cartons.


In Audrey Silk's backyard, along with the rose bushes, geraniums and impatiens, are 100 tobacco plants in gardening buckets. She dries the leaves in her Brooklyn home's basement.


Once the process is complete, Silk rolls and enjoys her tax-free homegrown cigarettes.


New York has the highest cigarette tax in the United States. But there are no federal, state or city laws prohibiting New Yorkers from growing tobacco at home for personal consumption, notes The New York Times.


Wanna bet lots of smokers now are looking into their state and local laws?

Silk buys tobacco seeds online for about $2. She expects her 2009 and 2010 crops to produce a total of 45 cartons and estimates that she will have saved more than $5,000.


"It'll make the antismokers apoplectic," Silk told the Times. "They’re using the power of taxation to coerce behavior. That's not what taxation is supposed to be for."


Taxes or personal policy?


Silk makes a good point. Tax policy is used at all levels to support some lifestyle choices and discourage others. The debate about whether that's the appropriate use of tax laws has been raging on since the first sin tax was created.


Even when I personally support a sin or other type of tax, I am disgusted by the self-righteousness of many pushing to not only collect revenue, but essentially punish via pocketbook the person who has the offending habit.


But despite the pompous rhetoric and personal predilections of politicians, in the end, it all comes down to how much money a government needs to operate and from which taxpayers the elected officials can most easily get the money.


By most easily, I mean not only the amount of money and the actual act of collecting the tax, but also which group of voters will be least likely to vote out the tax-enacting lawmakers.


Remember, the health care reform funding debates. A tax on plastic surgery was proposed first. Doctors across the county screamed and the less-powerful tanning booth owners took the tax hit instead.


It's that type of public policy making that prompted Silk, a retired police officer, to found the smokers' rights group New York City CLASH (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment).


Up in tax smoke


How big is your state's tobacco tax? Since 2002, 47 states, the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories have increased their cigarette tax rates more than 100 times.


But if you live in the South, you're probably not paying that much per pack.


Data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids that the overall U.S. tobacco tax

average is $1.45 per pack. But the average tax in the country's major tobacco growing states is just 48.5 cents per pack.


The map here, created by the National Conference of State Legislatures, gives you a colorful overview of U.S. cigarette excise taxes.


If you prefer text, The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has the cigarette tax info in table format.


The cigarette tax rate map and table are likely to change as cash-strapped states look for ways to raise more money.


Right now, new California Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing his state's legislature to act by March 10 on a measure that would let voters in June decide whether to extend higher sales, income and vehicle tax rates.


The California proposal measure also would increase the Golden State's cigarette tax by $1 a pack. And yes, the money would go to cancer research and smoking prevention programs.


More from Don't Mess with Taxes and MSN Money:



Feb 26, 2011 4:58AM
I can my own tomato sauce, dry my own chiles, dehydrate apples/cherries/pineapple/pears, harvest my firewood, and make my own maple syrup. I do this because it all tastes better and I don't have to wonder what's in my food. Never got e coli or salmonella either! I like the idea of having some control over my life in a world that is increasingly chaotic. BTW, I live in a suburban neighborhood and am not some recluse living in a bunker. I applaud Silk for growing her own tobacco and am now thinking of doing so myself even though I don't smoke cigarettes. I do harvest and dry mullein which is also known as "Indian Tobacco". I smoke it in a pipe I made from a piece of Minnesota Pipestone. Do more for yourself and stop interacting with those who have decided to help themselves to a percentage of your productivity.
Feb 26, 2011 12:30AM
I don't smoke and don't really like being around it, I do not mind people smoking as long as its not around me. I think its fine what this woman is doing because nowaday it seems like the government would tax oxygen if they could. Government doesn't seem to be satisfied until its got its hands in everyones pockets, they are just a bunch of greedy fools. All I can say is good luck to the NY woman, watch out though because they may still find some stupid reason to come after you.
Feb 26, 2011 8:09AM
Tax's,just another way of being ripped off by the people who run this country,from your local all the way up to the top.Someones country is in trouble our government jumps right in with all the money they need.Let me tell you people,our country is in trouble and why isn't our government helping us?I recommend cutting the salaries in half and letting  them pay for their own health care.They can also see how great this ethanol **** for gas works for them driving themselves to and from work.[WHAT A SCAM] The real people of America,we who struggle every day to stay afloat need to join together and throw out these bloated hot air bags running this country.I propose a tax on shame because we should all be ashamed of what we have let our government do to us.For the people who don;t like this i also propose a tax on stupidity.
Feb 26, 2011 9:46AM
I don't have the inclination to grow my own Tobacco. It's a plant that requires a certain level of expertise to be successful with. Obviously this woman has a green thumb. Kudos to her!
I buy my smokes tax free. Once you know who to talk to, you can buy cigarettes again without all those pesky taxes to pay. I have not bought a pack of cigarettes in a store for at least the past 2 years. I'd rather support the crooks running the tax free smokes than the crooks running politics.

Feb 26, 2011 1:40AM
In the past 12 years,  I may have purchased less than 20 cartons of cigarettes.  Since 1999 I've been buying RYO tobacco and tubes, saving a lot of money.  Occasionally I'll purchase a pack of cigarettes.  I'd start to grow my own tobacco here in Oregon, but the state and feds haven't pushed me that far.  When my wife and I move to New Zealand, then I will be growing my own tobacco for personal use, it is also great for pest control.  They are looking at banning the selling of tobacco and cigarettes.  They blame all these deaths every year on cigarette smoke and second hand smoke.  They tend to forget about the air pollution from factories, automobiles, etc.  No test has ever been done to completely blame lung cancer or other diseases on tobacco, because then the test would have to be done from birth to death with the only air pollution being from cigarette smoke.  When anyone can show me proof otherwise,  all the tests that are performed to state it is tobacco alone are based on false results.  By the way I am a considerate smoker, I try not to smoke around non or (worse) ex-smokers.
Feb 26, 2011 10:17AM
Too bad we can;t get a "politician" tax passed. Then, the folks that cause so much grief to others would know how it feels to be singled out for doing something they like. I don't smoke, other than a couple of cigars a year, but I, for one, am tired of dick lawmakers taxing everything possible in order to make it seem as if they are doing a good job. Let's throw 'em all out and rebuild our freedoms. It's pitchforks and torches time!
Feb 26, 2011 7:53AM
It's disgraceful how we keep getting ripped off by taxes, cigarettes and food! If I had my own house, I'd grow my own tobacco! They made it hard for us to buy them but they're only hurting themselves in the long run. I'm sure, by now, they must feel the impact on the drop in sales? I'm sorry but I'm an American and as far as I know, I still have rights in this country and from where I sit, the American people are getting reemed unjustifiably where taxes are concerned! And food prices are rediculous as well. This country is going downhill fast & it's run by greedy politicians who literally "waste" our money every single day. Shame on ALL of them!
Feb 26, 2011 10:50AM
I have a question to those who grow their own tobacco: How long until the officials decide to make this illegal because they are not getting their tax cut?
Feb 25, 2011 11:13PM
My father's family grew tobacco on their farm for many years.  They put it up in 'twists' and either chewed it or dried it in cedar chests then crumbled it into a can and smoked it in their pipes.  Processing tobacco into a pleasing cigarette takes some know how.  Most are a blend of several types of tobacco and the moisture must be kept just right or it will burn too fast and be harsh to the taste.  This lady must be pretty talented not to mention patient..  LOL
Feb 26, 2011 1:09PM
Grow our own tobacco, make our own booze, and make our own lead and powder. survival of the fittest!
Feb 26, 2011 12:14PM
 Politicians hurt people and business etc.....They should just start taxing the poiticians and raise the tax yearly then they wouldn't need to tax anything else
Feb 26, 2011 7:46AM
everyone is complaining about how bad cigarettes are for you but they don't say much about the very air we breath. i say this to all the anti cigarette people - go suck on the tailpipe of your vehicle because that is what you are breathing and it is far worse for you than cigarettes!
Feb 25, 2011 11:37PM
I have thought about growing also.   The GOV likes to pick on smaller groups(smokers, fat, etc).    I don't drink soft drinks.   Thats would be some major taxes.   They want to keep us safe?     MY ****.   Control US.    Why does a 8.5oz can of veggies/pasta/etc. have salt listed at 500mg and then say it has 3 servings.   1500mg in the can.    Do you eat 6 greenbeans or 2 oz of pasta?   Its smoke and mirrors to make YOU feel good and make you THINK they are helping YOU.    I live in VA.   Looking at tobacco,etc.      Fresh is best.   Grow your own.
Feb 26, 2011 6:10AM
Remember way back when the Government started subsidizing tobacco farmers to NOT grow their tobacco.  Well, beware and watchful;  they will come up with a new law to make it illegal to grow tobacco.  As for me, I'll keep growing my own until they find out, LOLThinking
Feb 26, 2011 1:30AM
j. holj........  You are right .Don't you just love how this gov. of ours taxes one group of people and then another.I smoke and have not paid state or fed. taxes on cigs. for over 3 years.There is so many ways to not buy taxed cigs.The gov. has lost millions from being too greedy.I guess I can grow tobacco next to my other plants.
Feb 26, 2011 1:08AM
Maybe we should stop working until they repeal income taxes......
Feb 26, 2011 9:32AM

Although I admit smoking anything is'nt the healthiest thing you may do. I have been growing my own tobacco for several years now. And yes it is much cheaper. About 35 cents a pack actually. But the main reasoning is. Do you know what is added to commercial cigarettes?Ever wonder why you can leave a pack on the dashboard of your car for a week and they wont dry out? Whereas mine will dry and the tobacco will fall out. Just one of many additives!  I like mine  au naturale.

And we just waved at the taxman, Sittin on our bag of seeds.


Feb 26, 2011 12:29AM
Democracy is the worst form of government known to man.  The Founding Fathers knew that 250 years ago.

Greedy, grabby, grubby governments at all levels will use any excuse to extract wealth from the minority in any society by vilifying them in the State-run press, such as the United States has done.

"Sin Taxes" are a perfect example of 'mob rule' also known as 'democracy' where the parasites invent an excuse to extort wealth from 'value producers.'  Another example of Liberalism run wild in this article.

Tobacco was a Cash Cow for this country before it even WAS a country.  So, naturally, the Liberals must destroy it.  Same with alcohol.  Without taxes, I could drink all the alcohol I wanted for about $1 a gallon.

Don't forget to blame the Indians...oh, excuse me, Native Americans..oh wait, North American aboriginals--they introduced our European ancestors to tobacco (not to mention, hash, hemp, weed, et. al.)  I guess it isn't PC to point out to the revisionists in the American Communist Party (Democrats) to speak of such things....Oh well.  I'll enjoy seeing our former REPUBLIC unravel and leave the Liberal holding a certain body part below the waist in his hand when it finally happens....

Feb 26, 2011 7:52AM
I do not mind paying taxes to support local, city. county, state and federal governments, that is only proper.  As I was taught in school there are three branches of government, Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.  Now I do not think that AMA and The American Heart Association is part of those branches so why are taxes being paid to them?  They say that these taxes are to help pay for people in hospitals that are suffering from smoking related illnesses,  but from what is published the money is going for cancer research and prevention, not to pay someones hospital bill.  Don't get me wrong that is good research but the blunt of the money should not be on a few people!  Oh by the way who is accountable for this money, I have never seen where that has been defined, I wonder how much as been used for estates in Florida?
Oh and nowadays everything is blamed on smoking, I wonder how come all these diseases and health problems existed prior to people using tobacco?  Lets face ti the whole thing is about people control, it was a way the government could get something passed that gave them permission to control individuals and they are taking advantage of it.

Feb 26, 2011 1:30PM
DeminIdaho wrote: What will the Feds  tax? when all the sinners quit smoking, drinking

Easy, they will just pick a new target. Coffee lovers, chocoholics, fast food or whatever is deemed a "health hazard" at the time. Non smokers don't care if smokers are taxed, Non drinkers don't complain when booze is taxed.  All will complain loudly when the politicians get around to taxing their particular vice but it will be too late. You should have frowned on the practice of sin taxes when it was somebody else's turn in the barrel.
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