Opinion: Chamber's tobacco tax stance flawed

I used to believe smoking was just a part of life. My parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. all smoked around me as I was growing up.
For years, I worked in bars and restaurants where people smoked. The more they smoked, the more they drank. The more they drank, the more they spent. The more they spent, the more I made. Simple.
I even participated in a public service announcement urging people to vote against banning smoking in bars in restaurants many years ago. I would be a hypocrite if I did not disclose that information.
I was dead wrong.
State Chamber executive Andy Peterson’s opinion piece in The Forum (Sunday, July 12) offering a rationale that it’s “free enterprise” for the Greater ND Chamber of Commerce’s stance on lobbying against a cigarette tax increase prompted me to research what this stance may be costing his members.
North Dakota has the sixth-lowest cigarette tax per pack in the United States, $0.44 per pack. Montana, $1.70 per pack. South Dakota, $1.53 per pack. Minnesota, $2.90 per pack. Canada, $2.80 per pack.
Statistically, there are more than 440,000 workers in North Dakota (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor).
I couldn’t find exact numbers but let’s say, conservatively, half of those workers, 220,000, work for the 1,037 member businesses listed on the Chamber’s website. Four of the top five largest employers in the state are also members of the Greater ND Chamber of Commerce. The fifth employer was not disclosed.
The average cost to a business per employee who smokes is $5,816 a year, per a 2013 Ohio State University study. A Gallup poll from 2013, “estimates that 19 percent of workers still smoke and that workers who smoke cost the U.S. economy $278 billion annually in lost productivity due to absenteeism and extra health care costs. This figure is based on an analysis of the cost of extra missed workdays due to poor health, partial absenteeism due to smoke breaks, and additional health care costs compared with workers who do not smoke.”
So let’s say, conservatively, 41,800 workers (220,000 x 19 percent) employed by the Greater ND Chamber businesses still smoke. That is potentially costing these member businesses $243,108,800 ($5,816 x 41,800).
The most recent revenue numbers I could find from cigarette sales in North Dakota was $68,951,521 for 2009.
Now I’m just beginning my graduate studies in business, but it appears it would be in the Greater ND Chamber’s best interest to encourage a cigarette tax increase.
Not only would an increase in the cigarette tax raise revenue for some of Peterson’s members, it would decrease the amount of money most if not all of his member businesses are losing out on paying for smoking- related costs.