3 Apr 2014
A New Jersey bill currently under consideration represents a new type of anti-tobacco legislation.The proposed law, introduced March 24, would tax all advertising for tobacco products at a rate of 25%.
While a number of states are considering expanded smoking bans and increased tobacco taxes, the New Jersey law would be the first time a state would tax tobacco advertising. New Jersey already taxes cigars at a rate of 30% of the wholesale price and has a $2.70 per-pack tax on cigarettes, the sixth highest in the country.
Advertising directed at children is already regulated, so the ads this bill targets are for adults who can legally purchase cigars and other tobacco products. Revenue raised from the tax would go towards state funding of programs to prevent the use of tobacco products including electronic cigarettes.
The bill only has four sponsors out of an 80-member General Assembly. And no companion bill has been introduced in the New Jersey Senate.
Given the current support, it is unlikely it will pass this term, but it should be a warning for advocates of cigar freedom. Anti-tobacco zealots are not happy just taxing tobacco; they also want to silence speech targeted at adults for tobacco products, or at least tax that speech and use the revenue to counter the message.
The proposed legislation also raises free speech issues since it targets one specific viewpoint for a tax and uses it for a message (anti-tobacco advocacy) that would presumably be opposed by those paying the tax. Generally, courts have found laws that target or limit a specific viewpoint to be a violation of First Amendment free speech protections.
It isn’t clear how the bill would apply to national publications where advertising happens to reach New Jersey audiences, but isn’t specifically targeted to them, which would include sites like StogieGuys.com. Further, the proposed tax would likely hit more dynamic and innovative types of tobacco particularly hard, which would include premium cigars where new products utilize advertising to fight for consumer attention.
Even though passage of this tobacco speech tax may not be likely immediately, this is a disturbing new type of anti-tobacco legislation that cigar smokers should be wary of. In the past, far too often seemingly unique and farfetched anti-tobacco proposals have become mainstream only a few years later.
photo credit: wikipedia