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A presidential commission has come up with an ingenious way to protect the public from the evils of tobacco and at the same time give tobacco growers an economic incentive to switch crops.

Like most ingenious ideas, it's incredibly simple. The federal government should raise the current tax on cigarettes by 17 cents a pack. The commission figures this would raise $3.4 billion a year based on estimated annual cigarette sales of 20.2 billion packs, according to the Associated Press. The plan is to use the tax money to buy out three-fourths of the tobacco farmers, who would then stop growing it, over five years. After that, the money from the higher tax would pay for tobacco prevention (whatever that is), smoking cessation programs and other public health initiatives, the report recommended.

Why yes, of course! Those smokers who are so addicted that they will continue to buy cigarettes no matter how astronomical the price gets can be counted on to pitch in and help, I'm sure. This plan will no doubt appeal to their desire to be patriotic consumers - not to mention stimulating their good Samaritan instincts to support smoking cessation programs.

The farmers will be terribly excited, too. They could join all those other farmers the government pays to not grow cotton or corn or what have you, and stop feeling guilty for their part in giving all those people lung cancer. And after the farmers quit growing tobacco, and the smokers who are buying 20.2 billion packs a year take the cessation programs and stop buying the tobacco that isn't being grown, then the tobacco companies won't have enough money to lobby politicians to pass laws that keep them in business.

What a wonderful world that would be. We nonsmokers would be so happy we'd probably hardly notice our mutual funds shrinking. Since the concept would be so successful, perhaps the government would then expand the idea to other industries, say car manufacturers. Slap a huge tax on SUVs, buy out three-fourths of the makers, and in five years, we'd have a gasoline surplus, cleaner air and less road rage. And with the extra dollars after the buy-outs, SUV owners could be retrained to ride bicycles made by the former SUV makers.

I love this. Let's see, what other bad things could we eliminate with taxes while saving their creators? Guns? Tax them so they cost so much they'll be treated like the Hope Diamond and kept in bank vaults. Then buy out the gun makers. In five years, retrain addicted hunters to aim a camera at their prey for sport. Meanwhile, the gun makers could retool to make violins.

TV talk shows? Tax everybody who watches Geraldo and his awful cronies he calls guests. Buy out Geraldo and company, and retrain them and all their addicted viewers to do volunteer work in the Bronx.

Junk food? Tax pizza, tacos, candy bars, burgers, beer, sodas, fries and fake ice cream. Buy out the fast food restaurants, bulldoze them and plant neighborhood co-op veggie gardens with the taxes. Retrain the junk food addicts to pull weeds in the gardens for free zucchini.

Now that I'm on a roll, let's impose a humongous sin tax on the federal government for whatever it is that it does. It's bad. Buy off all the politicians, send them to ego-cessation programs and retrain them to be school teachers and paid on commission for each child they teach who graduates with a 4.0. Don't worry, the country will do fine. Everyone knows that secretaries really run the government, anyway.

Contact Vivian Taylor at 474-1386 or online at viv@cybertrails.com.

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