Friday, March 16, 2007

Phillip Morris Politicizes Plaid Pantry Purchases, Predictably

I don't think it's ever come up at LoadedO, but there's no denying that Plaid Pantry is quintessentially Oregon, certainly very Portland--so in that context this story may be about both politics AND culture, a rare double-double for our mission statement. Yesterday evening I found myself craving soda with sugar in it (something I've denied myself in greater measure recently since reading of the science suggesting it may literally cause obesity.) The P-Deuce near our house is a natural and frequent spot for little purchases like that, candy and papers and a quart of milk or a six of beer and whatnot. Keeps me sane, as Christian Slater said in Heathers.

And of course, smokes. I don't buy 'em, so I don't think of it that often, but convenience stores sell an assload of smokes. A ridiculous amount. Considering they're half the price of bar cigarettes but almost as convenient as the machines, Plaid Pantry does a brisk business to be sure. Which certainly explains why I found a pad of notes with this written on them, lying right at the cashier's stand next to the penny tray:

I should also add that the pad was sitting on a larger, laminated version of the same general text, but with customized information for the store's location, and the numbers for the appropriate Representative and Senator. I realized this was no grass roots thing Plaid Pantry was doing to save its mom and pop business and others like it...the fine print revealed the smell of Big Tobacco and the feel of astroturf, as you see at the very bottom of the back side: Paid for by Phillip Morris USA.

The front text, which is pictured on top, makes no mention of the reason for the tax, or where the proceeds will go. There's nothing untrue about the facts they do provide; it's your basic anti-tax appeal. It's the back that's more interesting, under the "you may want to tell your legislator" section. Oh, may I tell them? Thank you so much. I like how Kulongoski is targeting "adult smokers." You really think so? Unless he thinks the teen attrition rate will be 100% after the tax, he's probably fairly aware that he's targeting youth smokers too. But that's just PM's way of reminding you that they're only interested in poisoning you with a filthy habit once you turn 18. Keep your eyes on the prize, kids!

I gotta say, if there's one argument that probably even most proponents of the bill agree on, it's that a stable funding source for child's health care would be far preferable. But as long as the proposed funding stream is logical and internally steady (and it is, despite manufactured claims otherwise), there is ultimately more moral liability in waiting for the perfect to rescue the good, than sacrificing the health of children that could have been repaired and improved in the meantime. So it's true, but it's really not a very compelling argument against doing something useful, now.

"Taxes should be reasonable and shared by everyone, not just smokers"--OK, reasonable, sure. But shared by everyone? Since when is nearly ANY tax shared by everyone? First of all, exempt most children under 5, who neither earn nor buy anything of consequence. Maybe some are models or have a big enough savings account for taxable interest, fine. But it's fair to say they don't really "share" our collective tax burden. If you don't work, you don't pay income tax. Don't own property, don't pay property tax. Don't buy gas, don't pay a gas tax. And if you don't smoke, get the point. Taxes should be reasonable, and in this case it's reasonable to tax a behavior that costs the state health care dollars, in order to recover some of those dollars and pay for public health care. And they should be shared--by everyone who smokes. I'm not inhaling nearly three bucks a pack in public health costs every day; tell me why I'm sharing the cost, again?

And check out that last bullet point--is that Phillip Morris trying to spin its own "declining revenue" as a way to argue against the plan?

Obviously this is all legal as long as Plaid Pantry is OK with it, and I'm sure they are. It's ultimately a pretty craven statement they're making: Leave our slowly dying customers alone to buy more smokes, man! But that's capitalism for you. What I'm curious about is how widespread a campaign this is, and who's running it in Oregon. Is the convenience store lobby spreading out the paraphrenalia? Or is this all Big Tobacco's doing? (It was no use asking the guy at the counter; maybe I'll try P2 HQ later on today.) So the next time you're slaking a dusty thirst or whatnot, see if Uncle Phil has spread his message to your local Kwikee Mart, and let us know.