Who Do You Know Who Smokes?

October 22, 2006

A behavioral expert wrote recently in the Washington Post to explain “homophily.” That’s what sociologists call birds of a feather flocking together, and it’s the reason a politician can win a race even though everyone you know hates him.

It turns out two factors are even more powerful than political preference for gathering us together: income and demography.

That’s why you either know a lot of smokers or almost none. Smoking is a poor man’s vice, so if you’re highly educated and highly paid, you probably know 19 non-smokers for every smoker. But if you’ve got a blue-collar job, chances are you can bum a cigarette from every third person you know — maybe even more.

So on November 7, when voters in Arizona, California, South Dakota and Missouri vote on raising their cigarette taxes, it’ll be the rich raising the poor’s taxes. Not a pretty sight.

As the old Capitol Hill saying about cynical tax policy goes, “Don’t tax you; don’t tax me. Tax that man behind the tree.” In this case, the guy behind the tree is taking a cigarette break.

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