Tobacco subsidy should be dropped

A Senate subcommittee Tuesday approved a defense spending bill that would end the 25-percent discount for service members who buy tobacco products at a commissary, base exchange or post exchange.

“We spend $1.6 billion a year on medical care of service members from tobacco-related disease and loss of work,” said subcommittee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The plan faces an uncertain future in Congress. But it would be an opportunity for a rare compromise by the members.

While smoking in federal buildings has been forbidden by presidential order since 1997, the restriction generally doesn’t apply to military bases and installations. Sure, common sense exceptions exist; for example, smoking is banned on submarines.

But it would be awkward to outlaw smoking by members of military. Imagine the irony of telling warriors returning from patrol in a war-torn area they can’t smoke ’em even if they got ’em because, well, it’s just too perilous.

More importantly, how can you prohibit service members – who are fighting for liberty, defending freedom – they can’t indulge in a legal product?

And tobacco is not likely to be made illegal, either. Excise taxes on tobacco raised $14 billion for the federal government in 2013, and $17 billion for states and local governments, plus $4 billion in sales taxes.

But deep down, members of Congress understand that to subsidize something is to encourage its consumption. The budget bill wouldn’t ban tobacco use, but taxpayers no longer would subsidize their use.