Some people say that taxing cigarettes is good since people “have to have them,” i.e., the demand for them is inelastic. Fair enough; low deadweight loss in taxation is a reasonable goal, and Ramsey would be proud. Then people come around and say it’s good to tax them because it will significantly reduce their consumption, and that’s a good thing since cigarettes are little white evil sticks. I want these people to argue with each other. Sometimes it’s the same people saying both things.
Yep, more evidence that arguments for government intervention are largely post hoc justifications rather than motivating forces.
As an aside, the lower deadweight loss from taxing inelastic goods makes economic sense if you’re only concerned with Kaldor-Hicks efficiency. Taxing a particular product simply because demand is inelastic is, however, horribly unjust. This is especially true when only a fraction of society consumes the good at all. Because my demand for cigarettes is less responsive to price than your demand for cheeseburgers, I have to pay for your healthcare as well as my own? I call exploitation!