Let me get this straight: The Rhode Island state representative in The Sun’s Jan. 5 Guest Opinion cites our lower-than-Massachusetts cigarette tax as a competitive advantage that will “bode well for our economic goals,” our health and mortality goals notwithstanding. Earth to Rep. Robert D. Phillips: The purpose of high cigarette taxes has nothing to do with business activity or revenue generation, but everything to do with saving lives.
1964 flashback: The surgeon general makes public that smoking is hazardous to your health, and according to the American Lung Association, smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S., causing more than 393,000 deaths per year.
Is the Democratic Representative in District 51 suggesting that low-skill and low-wage convenience store employment is to be valued above the guaranteed increase in cancer rates and death that automatically are attached to lower cigarette taxes? “The person who buys cigarettes is also likely to spend money on a bottle of water, a coffee, a lottery ticket …” to say nothing of the coffin or funeral home business that’s bound to benefit.
The first paragraph expresses sympathy for “the poor and vulnerable people of Woonsocket and Cumberland,” yet three paragraphs later, the answer is to make smoking and lottery ticket purchases easier? Perhaps the representative apparently doesn’t read The Westerly Sun regularly, so please allow me to point out the exciting employment possibilities in Rhode Island that can potentially make the world a better place: Oct. 23 we learned of Deepwater Wind, which is working to enact the first U.S. offshore wind farm off Block Island in 2015. Or how about the Dec. 26 article in The Westerly Sun that says “Solar energy project proposed in Hope Valley clears another hurdle” as they press ahead in Hope Valley to install solar energy generation within the residential community. These are two exciting future-oriented projects that can both save lives and provide economic development.
Sure, it’s not as glamorous as cigarettes or lottery tickets, but climate change kills anywhere from 300,000 to 5 million people every year, and this is just the cost to human lives. What about our animal friends, like the polar bear who is fast tracked to extinction? Advancing renewable energy is among the most noble of all causes, with Rhode Island so much better off if we discouraged smoking and encouraged the commercial application to scale of renewable energy. It has to start somewhere, so why not here!