What would Willie do?
Carnival of Money Stories

State tax revenue going up in no smoke

Cigarette_smoke_2 In 2005, states counted $13 billion added to their treasuries thanks to tobacco taxes. Sure, that's a hefty amount. But cigarette tax collections that year were actually down in 15 states compared with the year or years before, according to a study backed by the tobacco industry.

This year, according to an Associated Press story, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois are all forecasting a drop in cigarette tax revenue. I wouldn't be surprised to see that trend here in Texas, too.

The reason for the decrease? Higher cigarette taxes. In the Lone Star State, the per-pack levy went up a full dollar on Jan. 1.

But rather than bringing in more money because the tax is higher, it seems that the taxes are finally prompting some smokers to kick the nicotine habit. More nonsmokers means less cigarette tax money.

That naturally upsets state money counters, but the tax loss could be offset by lower state costs to treat smoking-related illnesses. Only time will tell how those tax scales will balance.

Uniformed smokers: Tobacco and the military have a long history.

Cigarettes used to be standard in military ration packets. Some U.S. Army camps in France during WWII were named for cigarette brands.

And now a University of California, San Francisco study finds that relatively cheap smokes are still available as long as you have access to a military commissary. Prices at military stores, notes the study, are lower than the cigarettes sold at local retailers thanks to the tobacco products' tax-free status at on-base outlets.

Smokin' motors: This afternoon down in Florida, the 2007 season kicks off for a sport whose history is inextricably tied to tobacco.

Sure NASCAR's roots are in another product that's a popular sin tax target, alcohol. But the sport has come a long way from the days when moonshiners ran full bore away from government revenuers AKA alcohol tax collectors.

As stock car racing became more formalized, Winston stepped in as the marquee sponsor for decades. But health concerns and changing public attitudes led to the elimination of tobacco brands on the cars.

However, the sin-tax area is still well represented in NASCAR, with liquor ads joining beer names on several autos.

And while the name doesn't have anything to do with cigarettes, one of  NASCAR's biggest stars is known by fans and fellow drivers as Smoke. Love him or hate him, you'd best watch out for his #20 car this afternoon.


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