Skip to content

Tobacco Taxes in 1884

2 min readBy: Alicia Hansen

In recent years there has been much talk of increasing cigarette taxes to raise revenue, to stop people from smoking, and to fund health-care spending. These proposals have ignited debates over “sin taxes,” tax-induced crime, the use of narrowly targeted taxes, and the appropriateness of using the tax code to change taxpayers’ behavior.

While some of these issues seem to belong squarely in the 20th and 21st centuries, the question of how to taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. tobacco is not new. As this New York Times article from 1884 shows, policymakers have been grappling with this issue for quite a while (PDF available from New York Times archives):

The tobacco representatives in Congress have had frequent consultations of late to devise some means to get the question of taxation before Congress, and it has been decided that the best opportunity will be afforded on Monday, when it will be in order to move to suspend the rules. Gen. Scales, of North Carolina, says that Mr. Hiscock, who is first on the Speaker’s list for recognition, will move the passage of a bill to abolish the tobacco tax and to permit the removal of alcohol from bonded warehouses without payment of tax when it is designed to be used in the arts or for manufacturing purposes. It is expected that there will be considerable opposition from some of the low tariffTariffs are taxes imposed by one country on goods or services imported from another country. Tariffs are trade barriers that raise prices and reduce available quantities of goods and services for U.S. businesses and consumers. members who fear that a reduction of internal revenue taxes will afford an excuse to continue the high protective duties, but the proposition is likely to be supported by Southern Representatives without regard to their opinions on tariff questions. The opposition among Republicans will come from those who insist that tobacco and whiskey ought to be taxes as luxuries.

For more on the history of tobacco taxes, take a look at this timeline from For more on tobacco tax data, click here.