I’ve often written about the fact that I believe that “sin taxes” – excise taxes on things that are ostensibly bad for us and should therefore be discouraged – are usually more about raising revenue than modifying behavior. I say this despite the fact that our legislators in this country swear that isn’t the case. But you and I? We know better.

Over in Russia, they don’t bother with such niceties. They simply come clean about such matters. You see, the Russian economy, like ours, is in a bit of a funk. Or is that “was” in a bit of a funk? According to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, their economy has rebounded just fine. Putin, speaking earlier today, said:

Our economy has managed to overcome the recession in a relatively short time because people felt that the government sought to protect their interests.

And who wouldn’t believe a world leader who releases official vacation photos as if he’s auditioning for an Old Spice commercial?

Of course the Russian government seeks to protect the interests of its people. We know this not just because Putin (who could give Isaiah Mustafa a run for his rubles) told us so but because we can see the concern and the caring in its policies. Take the economy, for example. Here, in the US, our Congress is content to argue about raising taxes and making tax cuts. But in Russia? There’s no discussion about what’s best for individuals. It’s all about what’s best for the state country. And what’s best for the country? Paying more in taxes.

You see, Russia recently announced that they would be raising taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. This is a nation where 65% of men smoke and where its citizens consume almost twice the global average of pure ethanol alcohol each year. So clearly, Russia is seeking curb these types of abuses.

Or, er, not so much. Actually, they’re apparently trying to make money off of them.

Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin is encouraging Russians to smoke and drink in order to boost the economy. Engaging in these behaviors will save the day because they’re generating more revenue. Kudrin said, for example, that smoking cigarettes means that “you are giving more to help solve social problems.” In other words, you can puff those economic woes away.

Kudrin went on to encourage both smoking and drinking by saying:

People should understand: Those who drink, those who smoke are doing more to help the state.

Got that? Do your part to save Russia: smoke more, drink more. Everyone’s happy! Somewhere, Mr. Stolichnaya is weeping a little: little tears of joy and rye.

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.


  1. Everytime I hear a politician complain about Social Security or a pension fund being underfunded, I wonder why the government doesn’t encourage people to smoke and drink. The increased mortality would really help the actuarial averages and keep the pension funds stable. Maybe that’s what Russia is doing. Fewer pensioners is much better for the government, especially in a socialist country. They should not only lower the tax on cigarettes and alcohol, but consider giving them away free to pensioners. Maybe our legislators really are looking out for our physical well-being, if not our financial well-being. [Yes, I’m joking here, and adding to Taxgirl’s point that social policy and fiscal policy don’t really mix well.]

  2. Ron Hassett Reply

    So what if politicians tax sins to earn money. The sins have been around centuries before us and will be here centuries after us. Passing laws against sins don’t work. Look at the 18th amendment. The fall out from alcohol prohibition created the reasons for the for the repeal 13 years later by the 21st amendment. ( the only amendment ever repealed) Crime went out of sight and well beyond any control. While it is out of line with some peoples moral compass, it is far easier to police, control and ultimately tax these vices and sins.

  3. Ron, I’m surely not criticizing the notion of sin taxes as a whole. It’s just that I believe you should come clean about the reasons for it. Russia’s honesty here is admirable. Er, sort of?

  4. ProfitOverLife Reply

    We (the Republicans, especially) do the same thing in this country!

    Citizens are encouraged by leaders to support very profitable but very counterproductive and self-perpetuating wars. Wars are inherently big-government. Which makes this Hypocrisy #1 among supposedly “small-government” conservatives.

    (Notice I didn’t say “statesmen”, because a true statesmen would try to keep us OUT of wars, not look for opportunities to get us IN them, and GOOD statesmen would succeed at this.)

  5. Ron Hassett Reply

    Oh Kelly, you would be surprised at the degree of my honesty. Example. I live in a state that does not permit casino gambling. ( I seldom gamble) Surrounding states permit and tax casinos. The casinos do quite well from the my state’s residents. Their lobby group along with the religious right form a formidable anti gambling block. The result is potential tax dollars goes else wheres while this state faces a budget shortfall. I think Nevada has the right idea on prostitution and strongly believe DUI infractions deserve more than a hand slap. (Yeah, it ain’t healthy but I do drink and smoke even tho’ I’m well beyond middle age ) My point is the sins won’t go away so tax them. Now, what other sins would you care to address?

  6. All of the politcians are a bunch of clowns! IT doesn’t matter if it is a sin or not, the only thing that matters is how much money they can put in there pockets! Lets think about this does really make sense to spend 20 million to get a job that only pays $5ooK a year? Hell no!

  7. Russians are very big nation and they are trying to protect their nationality even if it is not related to their country. They penetrate in places they shouldn’t. Don’t believe that they do good job.

  8. I agree that taxes on things that are bad for us have nothing to do with trying to get us to stop but more about raising revenue. If it really was about health they wouldn’t be allowed to be manufactured and sold.

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