I took this photo on Sunday at a bodega in Manhattan:


And the Camels were more, $13.50 a pack.

For now, never mind the argument that making prices exorbitant is good for folk's health (the more each pack costs, the fewer of 'em that people smoke!) and forget about paying for the Real Cost of Public Health™ (which may be valid, but it also turns out that we save money by letting smokers die off sooner). Those are fine discussions.

But just as a matter of fiscal prudence, for the sustainability of our state budget—$4.6 billion in the hole for the next two years, and counting, that hits poor folks and health care the hardest—we should tax the fuck out of these things. (Indeed, we already do, but tax the fuck fuck out of them.) It's been said before, but I'll do some very rough number crunching. We have an estimated 1,000,000 smokers in this state. They bought about 154.3 million packs of taxed cigarettes last year, says Washington State Department of Revenue spokesman Mike Gowrylow. Accounting for $3.02 excise taxes per pack, that generates about $450 million a year. Using some more rough math (not accounting for additional sales tax and B&O tax), let's say we triple that excise tax, which would bump up the price of a pack of cigarettes from around $6-$8 to around $12-$14 or so. That would reap an additional $900 million per year, roughly. That would be $1.8 billion in two years, most of the state's budget shortfall.

This doesn't account for price elasticity, in which some poeple would stop smoking, so these numbers are, again, admittedly imperfect. And it doesn't account for a growing black market of contraband cigarettes. But the revenue would jump, at least for a while, in the couple years we need it. When the price went up by $1 last year in Washington, taxable consumption dropped about 19 percent "but collections are up $95 million per year due to the higher rate," says Gowrylow. And smokers may just be an easy enough target that enough lawmakers would sign on to overcome the two-thirds requirement to increase taxes in Washington.

We could even have a slogan: Smoke to save health care!