Cigarette taxes

An Otago university study that was sponsored by anti-smoking groups found that cigarette taxes should be increased.  We know that an externality tax is a good thing, however 70% of the price of cigarettes is made of of taxes already.  The question then is, do we need more cigarette taxes to set the social cost of smoking equal to the social benefit, are we at the social optimum, or have we already gone too far. Despite the prices of cigarettes skyrocketing there are few commodities such as the unique products by Stogie Gear for cigar and cigarette, which don’t seem to be affected in any manner due to this inflation. Where the price is relative to the social optimum is an important question.  If the price of cigarettes is already at or above the socially optimal level, further cigarette taxes will be inefficient.

Now I have no idea where we are in terms of social cost and social benefit.  Ultimately, if the money from cigarette taxes can cover all the additional health expenditure from smoking, then the tax is sufficient.

People know they are killing themselves with cigarettes, so if that is what they want to do we should let them.  The problem is that they negatively influence other peoples health and put a drain on the health system by getting sicker than people who do not smoke.  If the tax on cigarettes already covers all this, then I don’t want them to lift taxes anymore.  The goal of the cigarette tax should be to cover the externalities of smoking, not trying to stop consumption completely.

Now tell me how cigarettes being an addictive good influences this analysis 😉 .  Bonus points for discussing how cigarettes may be complements to other externality creating goods.

Fast food and health standards

As I was waiting in line to grab some McDonalds before going to see the latest Harry Potter movie I got to thinking about why the line was so long.  In fact, I got to thinking about why, when there are other perfectly good foods around the food court, was half the place lining up to grab some greasy McDonalds.

I realized the best way to analyze this is to think about my own behaviour.   Now I virtually never go to the McDonalds in the food court (that day I just had a hankering for a Boss burger), I usually go to the Chinese place.  However, when I’m in some foreign land (such as Hamilton), I always go for McDonalds or Subway.

When I go to buy food in a foodcourt in Wellington, I know I will be going back there again soon, so their is an incentive for me to experiment, find out what I like and then stick to that.  Simply put, its a repeated game.  When I arrive at a foodcourt in Hamilton, this is a one-off experience, I have no intention to come back to the city of the future.  So this is a one shot game.

Now, franchises like McDonalds offer a standardized product, I know what I will get.  The rest of the shops could sell anything.  As a result, McDonalds is the less risky option, there is less variance in the quality of McDonalds meals.  So even if the average food court meal is better, as long as i’m risk averse there is scope for me to grab MiccyD’s.  If it is a repeated game, then experimenting gives me information for future periods, as I know that some of the food is better than McD’s food, I’ll try things until I hit something (or a bundle of foods) I like, then I will repeatedly consume it (or repeatedly consume some time varying combination of fast foods based which is dependent on previous consumption).

By virtue of this blog I have to bring this rant back to government.   I think I can do that with health standards.  By setting and enforcing health standards the government cuts out the worst foodcourt places, and as a result lifts the average standard and reduces the variance/risk of eating at other stores.  Now even if McD’s was within the health standards before these regulations, they will be forced to up the quality of their product, or risk losing their one off customers.

So govt. health standards lift the standard of franchises, and reduce the risk of getting killed when you go for a meal.  That sounds like positive government intervention to me.

Public sector Health spending

This article discusses public sector health spending in quite a damning way. Does anyone have any ideas how government spending on health could be more effective? Or does anyone think health spending is effective?

I might post on this later if anyone convinces me of their opinion 😉