President Obama’s cigarette tax up in smoke

The White House didn’t accord its plans with anti-smoking organizations. Cigarette makers never concerned about creating a lobbying method to kill it. Obama’s political arm hasn’t delivered an email asking Congress to examine it. Not even Obama’s surgeon general, who asks for reducing smoking “the single most crucial problem for all the surgeons general of the past five decades,” published a press release approving the idea.

Obama Cigarette Tax

Barack Obama talking of new cigarette tax

That’s the viewpoint within the West Wing, too — rather than a marquee idea, aides say the 94-cents-per-pack cigarette tax was actually not a goal, and there are no strategies to create a public case for it. The tax was just the most politically palatable plan they could develop to pay for their major new entitlement program — and in terms of a budget debate they never estimated to get serious, that was enough.

“If other people have other ideas, we’re pleased to examine them,” a White House official said. “If there were another way to pay for this, we’d be open to it.”

White House officials defined the cigarette tax as incidental to a larger target of financing the universal preschool program. And they wouldn’t examine the proposal Obama called “the right thing to do” on the record at all.

With no help from the White House to push its own proposal, anti-smoking promoters say they are on their own to build public momentum for the new tax — particularly a fight in an environment where the House and Senate have each approved their own budget bills but have demonstrated no effort to send to a conference committee.

In addition, the full extent of the cigarette industry pushback on the proposed cigarette tax so far is an change to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s transformtobacco.com, which requested smokers to call their members of Congress and oppose it.

The cigarette industry’s major firms haven’t introduced any new lobbying initiatives and don’t be ready to because there is no expectation that Congress will examine it, lobbyists who work for cigarette manufacturers said.

The usual public health advocates haven’t yet set up a public push for new cigarette taxes — partially because the White House didn’t arrange for them to do so before the budget rollout. The White House didn’t send supportive statements — a change from past practice when it overloaded reporters’ mail boxes. Currently, they are waiting to see if there is a significant efforts to reach a budget grand bargain before making any more steps.

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