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WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS IS ... NOT THIS

If I paid $10 for a cigar, first I'd make love to it, then I'd smoke it.

- George Burns

Congress is thinking about raising the tax on cigars from a nickel apiece to as much as $10 per pop.

The new tax rate would be just over 53 percent, with a $10 maximum.

So a cigar that costs $5 now would cost a little more than $7.50, and so forth. A cigar that costs about $20 today would get taxed to the hilt.

The idea is that the money would be used to pay for health care for little kids.

Maybe you are thinking:

(1) So what? I don't smoke those stinky things. Good riddance if it makes people quit.

(2) Cigars are mostly for people blowing their money anyway. They can afford it.

(3) Tobacco is evil, period. What could be better than to tax it and use the money to help little kids?

If you are firm in one of these opinions, then good for you, and you should not trouble yourself to read further. After all, there are many important things in the paper.

Maybe there is even something clever today in The Family Circus, like when one of those cute kids runs around leaving a dotted line. Ha ha! I love that one.

Anyway, go ahead. Go. I'll be here again Tuesday.

(Brief pause.)

All right.

First, I appeal to a sense of just proportion. Nothing should be taxed at 53 percent. It may be that a 5-cent excise tax is outdated. But at 53 percent, it's not a tax. It's a punishment. It's a confiscation. It's a mugging.

Second, I appeal against stereotype. The vast majority of cigars are not smoked by rich fat cats who light them with $100 bills.

Third, I appeal to local patriotism. You do not have to be a cigar smoker to appreciate the heritage of Tampa and Florida, or to oppose the threat to its remnants.

Fourth, I appeal to rational cause and effect. Cigars cause their own problems, but they are not related to health issues among kids.

You want to tax something that makes sense? Tax sugar. Tax Snickers bars. Tax sticky-sweet soft drinks.

Or could it be that Big Sugar has a slightly stronger lobby than the cigar industry?

Tax Xbox and PS/2. Tax television. Tax parents who don't throw their kids outside. Tax potato chips and Pop Tarts.

Fifth, as someone who enjoys a cigar myself, I appeal against guilt by association. Cigars are being lumped in with cigarettes (on which the tax would leap from 39 cents a pack to $1). But it is not cigars that kids are smoking on street corners, or that we fear Hollywood is glamorizing.

The president says that he will veto this bill if it passes. But it ought not come to that.

A tax of up to $10 on a cigar? It is government run amok. My only hope is that they go overboard with righteousness and propose the same for beer, in which case the long overdue voter revolution will be at hand.

- - -

What, you thought I should have kept complaining about the local government? I did it all last week, and plenty of people joined me online on TroxBlog to agree and, on occasion, to disagree.

Check out TroxBlog by clicking on the "Blogs" link of www.tampabay.com, or at the web address blogs.tampabay.com/troxler. I also hope you'll consider stopping by at noon Tuesday for the weekly, live online chat.

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