by James A. Bacon

Blog contributor Don Rippert and I have been engaging in an invigorating tit-for-tat in the comments section of the blog. I thought the subject matter of sufficient interest to elevate it to the level of a full-fledged blog post. The topic: Should Northern Virginia be compensated for the failure of downstate Virginia localities to tax cigarettes like they do in Northern Virginia?

Don’s underlying charge is that Virginia’s countenance of the nation’s second lowest cigarette tax, $.30 per pack, represents an indirect subsidy to the Richmond region, a payoff to Altria, owner of Philip Morris USA and the nation’s largest manufacturer of cigarettes, which is located here. His logic runs something like this: High taxes discourage smoking. Smokers have higher medical bills. Insofar as smokers tend to be poorer than the general population, they are more likely to be on Medicaid. Virginia pays for half of Medicaid (the federal government pays the other half), which means state taxpayers bear the burden of smokers’ poor health choices. Fairfax County has imposed an additional $.30 tax on top of the state levy, thus doubling the sanction against cigarette smoking, whereas my county of residence, Henrico, has not.

Wrote Don: “Given that you understand that taxing cigarettes does reduce smoking, I assume you also understand that failing to tax cigarettes increases smoking. How much should the residents of Northern Virginia be asked to pay for Henrico County’s unwillingness to curb cigarette smoking through the imposition of local taxes on the sale of those cigarettes?”

Then he goes in for the kill: “You claim to like ‘user pays.’ The Richmond area benefits from having Phillip Morris headquartered in Richmond. In turn, Richmond jurisdictions such as Henrico County avoid offending their friends at Phillip Morris by imposing local taxes on cigarettes.  This, in turn, increases the smoking rate and costs everybody in the state money for treating the unfortunate victims of cigarette smoking.”

“So, I ask once again – how much should the Richmond area pay back to the Commonwealth of Virginia for its sad refusal to use the common practice of taxation to reduce the provably deadly practice of smoking?”

OK, you really got me there, Don. Ha! Ha! Except you didn’t get me!

First, let’s ask ourselves, how significant is that $.30 Fairfax County cigarette tax? The combined state+county tax of $.60 equals that of the state of Kentucky, whose tax ranks only 40th in the country. You want a serious tax? Look north. New York’s $4.50 per pack is as serious as lung cancer.

Well, one might respond, Fairfax’s $.30 tax is better than nothing. How much effect does that have in discouraging smoking? Let’s look at the correlation between the tax per pack and smoking rates. Using Gallup Poll data for state smoking rates, we get:

How about that? Virginia’s tax is half of Kentucky’s but Virginia has a much lower smoking rate. Virginia’s tax is one-fifteenth that of New York’s but the Old Dominion has the same smoking rate. Fairfax County (according to this source, using an unknown methodology) does have a lower smoking rate than Virginia as a whole but it’s unclear if any of that is due to the tax. Smoking is highly correlated with education, and Fairfax County has a much higher level of education. Admittedly, the smoking research is almost unanimous that there is a connection between taxes and smoking, but it is only one of many factors and the impact is easily overstated.

The next flaw in Don’s logic is his implicit assumption that downstate Virginia’s healthcare spending is necessarily higher as a result of the higher smoking rate. Perhaps the smoking does add to costs. But that’s not the whole story. Let’s look at the numbers provided by the Dartmouth Atlas on the average spending per Medicare enrollee in the Richmond and the Arlington hospital referral regions. (Medicare enrollees do not have the exact same medical profile as Medicaid enrollees, but this article concludes that “there is a strong relationship between Medicare and Medicaid spending in comparing Hospital Referral Regions (HRR) within each state.”)

$7,244 — Arlington HRR spending per year
$7,239 — Richmond HRR spending per year

Oh, my. There goes Don’s argument up in smoke. The average annual cost per Medicare enrollee is actually $5 cheaper in Richmond than in Arlington despite the lack of local cigarette taxes to repress smoking. Assuming the same pattern applies to Medicaid spending, it turns out there is no inter-regional subsidy at all. Indeed, add the cost of reimbursements for professional and lab services, and Arlington enrollees cost taxpayers $335 more per year. Maybe Richmonders should demand compensation from Northern Virginia!

For the record: I think smoking is a really bad idea and ought to be discouraged. Also, I do subscribe to a “user pays” philosophy. People should be held responsible for slovenly health habits like smoking just as they should be held responsible for slovenly driving habits like driving under the influence. Ideally, health care insurers (including the Medicare program) would impose direct financial penalties on smokers in the form of higher insurance rates. That’s impossible in the case of Medicaid recipients, who don’t pay for their coverage. Perhaps there are other options for them, such as rewarding them for quitting. But turning the issue into one of “mom likes your region best” doesn’t accomplish anything.

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  1. we’re slinging data here.. in ways that do not really prove much other than Jim is good at making a case with data.

    I support HEAVY cigarette taxes throughout the state and I support every penny going to the MedicAid program. In fact, if Va wants to turn down Federal MedicAid – let’s use cigarette taxes to make up some of the shortfall.

    I would also do the same with alcohol. Tax it and send the tax to the MedicAid program – not generic state coffers.

    On the state’s borders, we need to have some flexibility so they we don’t end up sending people across the border.

  2. Arlington & Fairfax are the only counties in Virginia with authority to tax cigarettes and keep the proceeds.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The data here is problematic. Jim uses only two points — tax per state and smoking rates. He does not take into consideration poverty or cultural differences.

    If Jim had checked, he would have found that Kentucky is a profoundly more impoverished state than Virginia. In fact, Kentucky as 12 of the nation’s 100 poorest counties. I couldn’t find Virginia on the list. No surprise thst Kentuckians smoke more.

    As far as New York, Jim forgets that a good part of the city’s population is made up of recent immigrants who come from cultures that encourage smoking, such as Russia, China, the Middle East and others.

    He does not factor these in. Groveton provides no similar data but I believe his sense is truer — the Richmond area plays footsie with Philip Morris all the time — that’s why they relocated here after pretty much being shown the door in New York. Altria just bought the name for the Landmark Theater. Years ago, MCV Med School was known as the place where American Tobacco did its research. Jim also tends to go into apology stage whenever anyone criticizes Richmond.

    1. Is there anything in this statement from my post with which you would disagree? “Admittedly, the smoking research is almost unanimous that there is a connection between taxes and smoking, but it is only one of many factors and the impact is easily overstated.”

      Indeed, you would seem to confirm my point.

      As for PMUSA and Richmond playing footsy, that may be true. But it’s also irrelevant to the thrust of the post, which argues that inter-regional health-care subsidies are non-existent…. unless you want to argue that Richmond is subsidizing Northern Virginia.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      The data here is more problematic than you think. The Dartmouth Atlas classifies parts of Rappahannock County within the Arlington HRR. As an interesting side note, the Washington, DC HRR includes people and hospitals in Keyser, West Virginia. The Charlottesville HRR also includes parts of West Virginia. Meanwhile, the Richmond HRR includes everything from Fredicksburg, VA to the VA – NC border and East to the Chesapeake Bay.

      So, in the geography of a Jim Bacon argument, Rappahannock County is in Northern Virginia while Fredricksburg is in Richmond. Meanwhile, West Virginia is partially divided between Charlottesville and Washington, DC.

      Good grief.

      1. Don’t blame it on me. I think the Dartmouth Atlas people know more about the geography of health care markets than your or I do. If people in Rappahannock County drive to a Northern Virginia hospital for health care, they probably have good reasons to do so.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          There is nothing wrong with the Dartmouth people. They don’t claim that HRRs represent reasonable political divisions in the state. You represent that by trying to equate the Arlington HRR with Northern Virginia and the Richmond HRR with the Richmond MSA. The geographic aspects of your argument are almost as broken as the economic aspects.

          1. So, the Dartmoth people don’t claim that HRRs represent reasonable political divisions in the state. Who does? I was simply using the best data that’s available. The Arlington HRR is a pretty good approximation of the Northern Virginia hospital market. The Richmond HRR is a pretty good approximation of the Richmond hospital market. Gee, the data doesn’t line up perfectly? Waaaah. You do the best the can with what you’ve got.

            In your case, you demand perfection of my numbers and methodology. What do you offer in its stead? Nothing. If you punch holes in my numbers, you think you’ve won your case. But you haven’t at all. Let’s see your numbers showing that NoVa subsidizes the Richmond region.

    3. DJRippert Avatar

      Wow. The more I look, the uglier Jim’s statistics get.

      He says, “First, let’s ask ourselves, how significant is that $.30 Fairfax County cigarette tax?”. How significant is Alexandria’s $.80 tax? The City of Fairfax’s $.85?

      Jim’s shameless cherry-picking of the data is sad to see. Jim – are you talking about 1) Fairfax County? 2) Northern Virginia or 3) The Arlington HRR?

      The Richmond HRR includes Fredricksburg which has a $.31 tax.

      Let’s see if we can’t get Jim back on the farm. Here are the cities and CDPs in Virginia by population:

      Every one of the top ten cities and CDPs EXCEPT RICHMOND taxes cigarettes. Of the next five cities, only Danville joins Richmond in the no cigarette tax philosophy.

      Now, if we could look at medical costs by city or CDP we might be getting somewhere.

      Jim, this was very sloppy work I am afraid.

      1. Wow, the more I look, the more invisibler Don’s statistics get. He doesn’t have any numbers on medical costs. All he has is tax numbers. He has yet to show that the taxes levied by any Virginia jurisdiction are sufficient to alter smoking behavior. All he makes is wild, unsubstantiated assumptions!

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          I didn’t write this blog post – you did. The onus of proof is on you, my friend.

  4. DJRippert Avatar


    I must say that I find it odd for you to use a main site post to debate comments. However, since you have done that ….

    1. You absolutely slaughter the statistics. You compare a county to entire states. Then, after admitting that the county actually does have a lower smoking average, you wish the fact away on “other factors”.

    2. You confuse “downstate Virginia” with Richmond. I certainly understand that you and the other members of the Richmond 1% believe that all of Virginia is a suburb of Richmond but, alas, this is not the case. Many of the cities in “downstate Virginia” tax cigarettes. Why doesn’t the city of Richmond do the same? This is not about NoVa vs elsewhere, it is about everywhere vs Richmond. After all, Philip Morris is only headquartered in the Richmond MSA – nowhere else in Virginia.

    3. You somehow skip from talking about NoVa to showing smoking statistics for Fairfax County to looking at Medicare statistics from Arlington. You compare the Medicare expenses of this Northern Virginia County with … well, I don’t know – is it the city of Richmond or the Richmond MSA? You never mention which “Richmond” you use. You then make the unforgivable error of failing to compare the average ages in the Medicare samples you quote. Even your source for the Medicare – Medicaid relationship is nothing more than the abstract of a paper that costs $12.95 to view from a single computer for 24 hours. Did you purchase the report, Jim or are you just opining based on a one paragraph abstract? When the abstract declares there is a “strong relationship” – what does that mean? In total? For the same disease categories? Here is the only statement listed in the abstract – “We suggest that the strong intrastate regional correlations demonstrate the importance of the supply of hospital beds, specialists, and other health care resources as determinants of use and spending.”. Really, Jim? That’s the basis for your absurd stumble from Arlington Medicaid to Arlington Medicare to Richmond Medicare? Dear Lord – if you took any statistics classes at UVA, demand a refund!

    4. In the end, you are your own worst opponent. You admit that smoking causes health problems. You admit that taxes on tobacco reduce smoking. Yet, you can’t manage to admit that failing to tax cigarettes leads to increased health problems. Instead, you try to cover up Richmond’s (not downstate Virginia’s) love affair with Philip Morris with one of the worst examples of Rube Goldberg logic that I have ever seen.

    1. Don, you have obscured the issues in a massive cloud of smoke!

      The Arlington reference that so bedevils you is the Arlington Hospital Referral Region (HRR), a region that encompasses Alexandria, Fairfax and other portions of Northern Virginia. The Dartmouth Atlas does not provide a more finer-grained analytical unit, so that’s what I used. I compare “Arlington” to the Richmond HRR because that’s the best data available.

      The issue that you totally refuse to address is the fact that health care costs per enrollee are slightly *lower* in Richmond than in Northern Virginia. There is no inter-regional subsidy of health care costs — even in the absence of Richmond-area tobacco taxes.

      Your fall-back position is this: If Richmond localities had a $.30 tobacco tax, their health care costs would be lower… and Northern Virginians wouldn’t have to pay so much to support Richmond Medicaid patients. Maybe the question you should ask is this: Regardless of tobacco taxes, why should Richmonders pay for Northern Virginia’s higher medical costs? You’ve got this awesome, highly educated, super-healthy community of people up there. Yet costs are higher. Do hospitals and doctors charge more? Why should a poorer part of the state with lower costs subsidize the richer part of the state with higher costs?

      Of all the factors that influence health care costs, why do you focus solely on tobacco taxes, as opposed to all the other factors? For one reason only: to advance your anti-Richmond narrative.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Well, it’s good to see that you have learned the difference between “no tobacco tax” Richmond and the rest of Virginia (including downstate) where tobacco is taxed. That’s a start.

        You yourself admit that failing to tax tobacco increases its use and that the use of tobacco increases health care costs. There is nowhere for you to hide from that, Jim.

        Your confusion of “user pays” and “user costs” is distressing to me. You talk about the per capita cost of Medicare in Richmond and Arlington but never about how much per person is paid into Medicare between Richmond and Arlington. Why is this, Jim?

        A subsidy is neither the cost of something nor the amount paid in. It is the difference between the two.

        Finally, the second lowest tax claim – make it while you can. There is a citizen led referendum in MO this fall to dramatically raise the tax on tobacco. It looks like it will pass. After that, certain areas of Virginia (including all of Richmond) will have the lowest tobacco tax in America.

        Now, Jim – you can call the fact that I point to Richmond as an absolute statistical outlier on tobacco taxes as “anti-Richmond narrative”. However, the facts are the facts – the Richmond area (along with some, but not all, other areas in Virginia) have the second lowest cigarette taxes in America. Soon, I believe that Richmond (and some other areas) will manage to be the lowest cigarette taxed areas in the United States. Meanwhile, Richmond welcomed Phillip Morris with open arms when that company decided to leave New York City after the Big Apple began clamping down on cheap tobacco.

        Anti-Richmond narrative?

        You must be kidding.

        You folks are doing what you are doing. It plain and obvious to everyone.

        1. If your argument was, “The Richmond region keeps its cigarette taxes low in order to suck up to Philip Morris,” I would not disagree with you. I might use different verbiage. But I would largely concede the point.

          But that’s not the issue here. The issue is whether or not the decision of Richmond-area localities not to tax tobacco imposes costs upon Northern Virginia, creating an inter-regional transfer of wealth. Your argument about the “net” subsidy addresses that point — unlike most everything else you’ve thrown against the wall today.

          I will take time to reflect upon that point. And I’m sure that you, having a real job to do, will gladly return to more pressing matters. But I’ll be back!

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Also, why the fascination with Medicare and Medicaid? If Richmond’s (not downstate Virginia’s) love affair with Philip Morris results in more smoking related illness (which you qualitatively admit is true) – why not consider the increased costs in private health care as well? My business provides health care that costs too much, in part, because the Richmond one-per-centers won’t tax cigarettes. And – unreimbursed health costs. Do those count too?

  6. DJRippert Avatar

    Finally, let’s talk about accounting and Jim’s theory. Medicare is paid through a tax on income – no? Up to a point, the more one makes, the more one pays. So, the $355 per year difference between Arlington Medicare enrollees and Richmond enrollees (unadjusted for average age – a statistical sin) is the gross difference. What is the net difference? In other words, if I take all the Medicare taxes collected in the Arlington Referral Region and then deduct the expenditures in the Arlington Referral Region – what number would I get? And if I did the same in the Richmond Referral Region?

    Shouldn’t “user pays” include a calculation of what is paid? Perhaps not in the warped logic of Jim Bacon. Jim – your argument should be called “user costs” not “user pays”. As usual, you make no effort to determine how much is paid in.

    1. What evidence do you have that the cost of private health care in Richmond influences the cost of private health care in Virginia? Does Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield lump the two patient pools together? I don’t know for a fact, but I would doubt it. They are very distinct markets with different providers and cost structures.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Who provides health care insurance for Virginia’s state employees?

        Who pays the taxes to the state to provide the employer share of that coverage?

        Is there a disproportionate number of state employees in the state capital?

        Is the state capital one of the two lowest cigarette taxing places in the country?

        Do low taxes on cigarettes promote higher smoking rates?

        Do higher smoking rates lead to higher health care costs?

        If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions then I am paying for private health care costs that are increased due to the Richmond area’s refusal to tax cigarettes at a reasonable rate.

        Maybe smokers pay more for insurance if they are employed by the state. I looked at this booklet and could find no reference to smoking:

      2. DJRippert Avatar

        Also – Jim, did you miss the question about how much, per Medicare recipient, each HRR pays?

        I mean, for example, if the Arlington HRR were paying more in Medicare taxes than Arlington HRR beneficiaries cost – that would be a surplus, no?

        And if the Richmond HRR were paying less in Medicare taxes than the Richmond HRR beneficiaries cost – that would be a deficit, no?

        So, if one area creates a surplus while another creates a deficit – that would be a subsidy, no?

        Shouldn’t the region creating the surplus be able to ask the region creating the deficit to at east try to cut down their deficit? Like asking the deficit region to tax cigarettes at the same level as the surplus region, for example.

        Now, I don’t know how those numbers shake out. However, I do know one thing – you need to know those statistics before you say anything about “user pays”. And you don’t know those statistics.

        1. YOU were the one who first made assertions (in the comments) that Northern Virginia was subsidizing Richmond. I contested that assertion and offered evidence to back it up. In turn, you advanced the conversation to a new level by questioning the value of that evidence and raising the issue of “net” surplus. I think you made a legitimate point.

          Therefore, a fair summary of the situation at this point would be to say, at the moment, that we lack the data to prove that a subsidy does or does not take place. I will poke around and see if the data is available. The IRS website might have something.

          1. DJRippert Avatar

            I claim that everywhere that taxes cigarettes in Virginia is subsidizing Richmond. That would include Tidewater and Charlottesville as well as smaller communities such as Fredricksburg.

          2. Your claim is evolving. Your original point was that NoVa was subsidizing Richmond. Now it’s NoVa, Tidewater, Charlottesville and others are subsidizing Richmond. What will your claim be tomorrow?

  7. DJRippert Avatar

    A reading from the Book of Biden Logic:

    “Ideally, health care insurers (including the Medicare program) would impose direct financial penalties on smokers in the form of higher insurance rates.”.

    Hmmmm …. have the people smoke for forty or fifty years and then “impose direct financial penalties” if they keep smoking? Unfortunately for many, a decision to stop smoking after decades of smoking comes too late.

    The only way to effectively impose these direct financial penalties when they would matter would be to …. ta da … tax the smokers by making them pay more into Medicare with the understanding that they will probably cost more once they start collecting benefits. In other words, in a complex and bureaucratic way, tax tobacco.

  8. Richard Avatar

    Smoking kills people in horrible ways, while enriching cigarette companies, their shareholders and the localities in which the companies are located. It can’t be banned because it’s addictive and we’ve already established in this country that it ok to do personally destructive things (except perhaps for smoking marijuana) in the name of personal freedom. However, it is immoral for government to encourage smoking for profit, and that’s what is happening. It ought be discouraged in the strongest possible way, and that would be to tax it to “death.”

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Several countries are now considering laws that would make the sale of tobacco products illegal to anyone born after 2000. The year of birth would never change. You would be “grandfathered” in if you are 13 or older but the age of the illegal smokers would go up a year every year.

      If the government doesn’t want to make it illegal then the government ought to tax the product sufficiently to ensure that those who use the product pay for all of the additional health care costs associated with the product.

      Tobacco products are the only legal items I can recall that cause serious health issues when used “according to directions”.

      Drink a beer a day – so what?

      Eat a cheeseburger once a week – who cares?

      Smoke a pack a day ….. ?

      1. Richard Avatar

        DJRippert – I agree with you and nearly everything you are saying in your article.

        Jim – I don’t understand your point. You’re taking a position that is entirely immoral and indefensible on any grounds and it “looks like” you are working hard to protect established economic and political interests. The implication to be drawn from your “facts” and arguments (comparable costs of health coverage, comparable rates of smoking – and btw I agree with DJRippert and everyone else that you have been highly selective and unscientific) is that we ought to just leave smoking alone because it either doesn’t do any harm or we can’t do anything about it. Is this the Tobacco Institute talking? Will you start dusting off those scientific studies saying tobacco is harmless and those anecdotes about the 95-year old men who smoke a pack a day for 80 years?

        1. Richard, please read my post carefully. In the post, I said: “For the record: I think smoking is a really bad idea and ought to be discouraged. … People should be held responsible for slovenly health habits like smoking just as they should be held responsible for slovenly driving habits like driving under the influence.”

          I am not defending smoking. I’m arguing against Don’s contention that the lack of tobacco taxes in Richmond-area localities means that NoVa localities are “subsidizing” the Richmond region by means of Medicaid payments. It’s a very narrow argument.

          Don and I have a running battle. He’s under the perception that NoVa subsidizes the rest of the state for just about everything. NoVa *does* subsidize RoVa education (although not in the Richmond area). He has yet to make the case, other than through undocumented assertions, that NoVa subsidizes Richmond-region transportation. And, as I have tried to point out in this post, he has not backed his assertions about Medicaid subsidies with any facts.

          If Don has deceived you into thinking that I’m disputing the scientific evidence against cigarette smoking, he has executed quite a rhetorical feat. But go back and read my post. I said nothing of the sort.

          1. DJRippert Avatar

            “Don and I have a running battle. He’s under the perception that NoVa subsidizes the rest of the state for just about everything.”.

            Actually, I have long said that I think Tidewater and (probably) Charlottesville are also net contributers.

          2. Richard Avatar

            Jim – you’re on dangerous ground when you write something that even implies that smoking is not harmful or is neutral regarding societal costs, and I think that’s what you’re doing when you present statistics that say that higher taxes on smoking aren’t helpful and may even have no effect on health care costs or numbers of smokers (or the amount of smoking). Are you contesting the idea that taxes affect behaviour? Not a very right wing idea that (note the Alaskan accent). Also, I have to again say that your statistics are bogus.

  9. re: Medicare is paid through a tax on income – no?

    there are FOUR Medicares – ONLY ONE is paid for by payroll tax.

    the other 3 are paid for with premiums and subsidized by the US taxpayer.

    Medicare Part B is for medical providers and costs many people about $100 a month but costs the govt about $400 a month.

    Part C is MediGAP coverage for the 20% that people are supposed to pay out of pocket and that coverage is also subsidized by the taxpayer.

    Ditto for Part D which is Prescription Drugs.

    Part A – which is for Hospitalization is the ONLY one that comes form payroll taxes and it will no longer be able to pay 100% of costs somewhere between 2016 and 2022 depending on whether you believe the Dems or GOP or CBO.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “Medicare Part B is for medical providers and costs many people about $100 a month but costs the govt about $400 a month.

      Part C is MediGAP coverage for the 20% that people are supposed to pay out of pocket and that coverage is also subsidized by the taxpayer.

      Ditto for Part D which is Prescription Drugs.”.

      Where does the money for all this subsidization of Parts B, C and D come from? Mostly from individual income taxes (since they pay most of the federal tax burden, as I recall)?

      Your point about premiums being part of the funding is valid. Do you know what percentage of the total of all Medicare costs are covered by premiums?

  10. looking at this tax map:

    the tax in Va – all counties and cities should be no LESS than 45 cents.

    does anyone know how much the current tax brings in and what it is used for?

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      I am not sure where you get the 45 cents. Are you reading the North Carolina number?

      Virginia taxes 20 pc packs of cigarettes at 30 cents per pack. Virginia also allows all cities and two counties to apply local taxes. The two counties are Arlington and Fairfax. Both of these counties apply a second 30 cent tax. The majority of Virginia cities also apply a local tax. Alexandria, for example, adds 80 cents for a $1.10 total tax. Your hometown of Fredricksburg applies a 31 cent additional tax. The City of Richmond applies no additional tax.

      Here are the stats:

      1. There are 39 independent cities in Virginia. All of these have the authority to tax tobacco.

      2. 30 of the 39 independent cities levy a tobacco tax.

      3. Of the 9 independent cities that fail to levy a tax, three are in the Richmond MSA – Richmond, Hopewell, colonial Heights.

      4. The only independent city in the Richmond MSA to levy a tax is Petersburg. Petersburg levies a 10 cent per pack tax tying it with one other city for the title of lowest cigarette tax greater than zero.

      5. The other cities that don’t levy taxes are Bristol, Buena Vista, Danville, Emporia, Galax and Lexington.

      6. Every jurisdiction with the legal right to levy a cigarette tax in Northern Virginia, Tidewater and Charlottesville levy taxes on cigarettes.

      This is not NoVa vs Richmond as Jim claims. It is Richmond vs common sense.

      Most disgustingly, there is ample evidence to illustrate that higher taxes and higher prices for cigarettes has a particularly dampening effect among young smokers. Given the pending tax referendum on the November ballot in MO, certain areas in Virginia (anchored by Richmond) are about to become the cheapest place in America to smoke. Sorry, kids.

  11. DJ – you’ve obviously go a good command of the facts.

    I think it’s incumbent on you to help Jim out here.


  12. Don, Let’s take a look at the Virginia jurisdictions (courtesy of that have the highest tobacco taxes:

    Falls Church, Virginia $0.75
    Fairfax, Virginia $0.75
    Vienna, Virginia $0.75
    Alexandria, Virginia $0.80
    Hampton, Virginia $0.65
    Newport News, Virginia $0.65
    Norfolk, Virginia $0.65
    Dumfries, Virginia $0.60
    Middleburg, Virginia $0.55
    Roanoke, Virginia $0.54
    Chesapeake, Virginia $0.50
    Portsmouth, Virginia $0.50
    Suffolk, Virginia $0.50
    Virginia Beach, Virginia $0.50
    Leesburg, Virginia $0.50
    Vienna, Virginia $0.50
    Franklin, Virginia $0.50
    Herndon, Virginia $0.50
    Lynchburg, Virginia $0.35
    Fredericksburg, Virginia $0.31
    Harrisonburg, Virginia $0.30
    Haymarket, Virginia $0.30
    Purcellville, Virginia $0.30
    Charlottesville, Virginia $0.25
    Manassas, Virginia $0.25
    Williamsburg, Virginia $0.25

    What do these jurisdictions have in common? Could it be that they are cities and towns? Could it be that the only counties in Virginia with the power to levy cigarette taxes are Arlington and Fairfax?

    When you get right down to it, of the four core jurisdictions of the Richmond region, three are not legally authorized to impose a cigarette tax. That would be Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield. Yet you bash the entire Richmond region because the City of Richmond doesn’t have a cigarette tax.

    Loudoun and Prince William counties don’t have a cigarette tax either. Are Fairfax and Arlington subsidizing Loudoun and Prince William as well as Richmond? If so, why aren’t you upset about that? Why is your ire always directed toward Richmond?

    Come clean. The lodestar that guides all your opinions is that everything emanating from Richmond (city, region, state government, you kind of mash it all together) is bad. If someone would just expunge us from the face of the earth, life in NoVa would be so much sweeter!

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      Seriously – you need to stop using false statements.

      “Yet you bash the entire Richmond region because the City of Richmond doesn’t have a cigarette tax. “.

      What other incorporated cities are within the Richmond Area?

      Colonial Heights – No cigarette tax
      Hopewell – No cigaratte tax
      Petersburg – Did this city eliminate the cigarette tax it once had? I thought there was $.10 per pack but you don’t list Petersburg.

      Along with the City of Richmond, all three of these jurisdictions could tax cigarettes.

      Virginia has 39 independent cities. 29 independent cities tax cigarettes. That’s 75%. Since you don’t list Petersburg as a taxing jurisdiction, I’ll assume it no longer has a cigarette tax.

      Let’s see – Virginia Independent Cities:

      Overall state – 75% tax cigarettes
      Richmond Area – 0% tax cigarettes

      The political elite in Richmond are hand maidens of Phillip Morris. They keep cigarettes dirt cheap throughout the metropolitan area. This leads to poorer health for Richmonders and addicts more of the children of Richmond to tobacco.

      1. Don, let me shed a little light on the sociological realities of Richmond, which I wouldn’t expect you to know because you’re not from here. Yes, the Richmond MSA does include Petersburg/Hopewell/Colonial Heights, a cluster of municipalities that have Within the MSA, there is one urban cluster focused on the City of Richmond and another urban cluster focused on Tri-Cities. They get lumped into a single MSA, kind of like, say, Dallas and Fort Worth.

        But the 800,000 or so people in Richmond/Henrico/Hanover and northern Chesterfield who are focused on Richmond feel no more affinity for the 200,000 or so people living in Tri-Cities than they would for Charlottesville or Fredericksburg. Maybe less, because there’s probably less interaction. (Chesterfield, which is situated between the two urban clusters, has a divided focus.)

        So, when you talk about the cigarette taxes in Hopewell and Colonial Heights, you are technically correct that they are part of the formal Richmond MSA, but you are ignoring the sociological reality that they have little connection with the “Richmond” that you talk about.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          No standard definitions of anything are acceptable when apologizing for Richmond I guess. Standard MSA definitions fall in the blinding light of Jim Bacon’s “sociological reality”. I guess when you are a member of Richmond’s elite you can establish you own definitions.

  13. DJRippert Avatar

    “Why is your ire always directed toward Richmond?”.

    Because Phillip Morris is headquarted in Richmond and that’s why some areas in Virginia have the second lowest cigarette taxes in the United States?

    Why is this hard for you?

  14. re: comparing Medicare and MedicAid. wrong. wrong. wrong.

    Medicare is for retirees and Medicare COSTS at least $100 a month – an amount that those in NoVa with govt or govt contractor pensions probably have an easier time of paying than many folks in RoVa whose pension may well be just SS.

    Remember also in RoVa, you’re going to likely have far more non-retirees accessing MedicAid because of their income levels.

    I don’t know much about the Dartmouth Atlas but it seems to not be an appropriate source for truly understanding the difference between RoVa and NoVa especially given their ideas about geographic relationships – which seem to be totally at odds with the Census boundaries for MSAs.

    those myriad flaws in Jims approach just give DJ an 18-wheeler wide path to exploit inconsistencies.

    If NoVa was Singapore and it’s economic vitality a private capital cornucopia, we could legitimately be talking about NoVa subsidizing RoVa but NoVa is basically king of the parasites of the US Budget – if you want to call RoVa a welfare state, NoVa is a mega welfare state and what we’re actually arguing about is RoVa taking some of NoVa’s welfare.

    Well HeckFire; what could be a more useless discussion in the first place?

    If we’re going to have a virtual cage match between Bacon and DJ, at least make it about something that counts for something!

    and DJ needs to get off the blame thing.. he blames everything and everybody for why the world is not right… We have 50 states with state legislatures all of them making laws that affect the rest of their states. Sometimes it sounds like, what DJ really wants is the locality version of State’s Rights. But I do agree on one point – boundaries these days are little more than historical artifacts but they have real consequences for policies.

  15. DJRippert Avatar

    “Your claim is evolving. Your original point was that NoVa was subsidizing Richmond. Now it’s NoVa, Tidewater, Charlottesville and others are subsidizing Richmond. What will your claim be tomorrow?”.

    If that was my original claim then your “research” has done nothing to dispute that claim.

    Using the HRR definition of Arlington as a proxy for Northern Virginia is erroneous.

    Using the HRR definition of Richmond as a proxy for the Richmond MSA is absurd.

    Using Medicare costs as a proxy for Medicaid costs is debatable at best – especially when based on a single paragraph abstract of a national survey.

    Using gross payments as a proxy for net payments (even if you had your geography right, which you don’t) is ridiculous.

    I still believe that core NoVa subsidized the Richmond MSA for Medicaid health costs, in part based on the Richmond MSA’s refusal to tax cigarettes at a reasonable level.

    Now … if you want to talk NoVa and Richmond MSA and Medicaid and net subsidies – we’ll have something to discuss. Until then – you are rambling.

  16. DJRippert Avatar

    And for the record ….

    I believe that 99% of Richmonders are honest, hard working, friendly people. However, I also believe there is a small number of Richmonders (let’s say 1%) who manipulate the laws of the state and the state government for their own purposes with no regard to the consequences for anybody else.

    Perhaps this is true for every state. It certainly is true for the political elite in Washington with respect to the country as a whole.

    However, Virginia is interesting in that the political elite self-identify. They declare themselves to be both “First Families of Virginia” and descendants of Pocohontas. They even provide a list of sur names which identify them. Names like Byrd.

    Candidly, I have met some of these people and I think they are ridiculous. They give the rest of the country the impression that Virginia is a Dukes of Hazard type place run by a bunch of Boss Hoggs.

    Unfortunately, they still cause trouble. They were at the center of Richmond’s school integration fiasco which was not resolved until 1986. They opposed a statue of Arthur Ashe on the streets of Richmond. They promptthe General Assembly to pass laws raising the rates Dominion can charge for “clean energy” and then demand no clean energy – in other words, they let Dominion rip us all off. They approve coal fired electrical plants so that the late, ungreat Massey energy can sell more coal.

    Richmond is, for its size, as corrupt as Washington, Chicago, Little Rock or Baton Rouge.

    Jim just doesn’t like to admit it.

    1. This is wrong in so many ways I don’t have time to respond. While there are grains of truth in your words, you make connections that shouldn’t be made and overlook many obvious facts that would contradict your thesis.

  17. Don said, “Using the HRR definition of Arlington as a proxy for Northern Virginia is erroneous.”

    Oh, really? Please explain why. The compilers of the Dartmouth Atlas, the premier research institute in the country for the analysis of regional differences in health care costs, seems to think it’s an adequate measure.

    Hospital Referral Regions (HRRs) refer to regional hospital markets. While regional hospital markets may not overlap precisely with MSAs, they reflect the reality of how health care markets are organized. But for the purposes of this dialogue, MSAs are irrelevant. We’re comparing *health care* costs here, not population growth, GDP, education levels or municipal spending.

    If you can come up with better data, I’m all ears.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Do you consider Rappahannock County part of Northern Virginia? Parts of Rappahannock are included in the Arlington HRR.

      Also, you conveniently ignore the Richmond HRR problem with your data. Do you consider the “Richmond area” to extend to the North Carolina border? The Richmond HRR extends to the North Carolina border.

      Interesting that you happily disown Hopewell, Colonial Heights and Petersburg from “the Richmond area” when it suits your needs but you extend “the Richmond area” to the North Carolina border when that helps your argument.

      As for better data – you wrote the blog post. Each HRR contains a specified list of zip codes. You could have pulled the reasonable zip codes for “the Richmond area” and “NoVa’ and gone from there. But you didn’t. You authored a blog post that is a mis-mash of confused and often contradictory statistics.

      It’s not my role to fix your poor statistical analysis.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      “While regional hospital markets may not overlap precisely with MSAs, …”.

      May or may not? The Washington DC HRR contains parts of West Virginia but none of Arlington County.

      ” Hospital Referral Regions (HRRs) refer to regional hospital markets. “.

      Thanks for your definition. I wonder what The Dartmouth Atlas says.

      “Data for all Dartmouth Atlas regional data reflect the experience of Medicare patients living in the region, regardless of where the care was actually delivered.”.

      Or, in more detail …

      “How Hospital Referral Regions Were Defined

      Hospital service areas make clear the patterns of use of local hospitals. A significant proportion of care, however, is provided by referral hospitals that serve a larger region. Hospital referral regions were defined in this Atlas by documenting where patients were referred for major cardiovascular surgical procedures and for neurosurgery.

      Each hospital service area was examined to determine where most of its
      residents went for these services. The result was the aggregation of the 3,436 hospital service areas into 306 hospital referral regions. Each hospital referral region had at least one city where both major cardiovascular surgical procedures and neurosurgery were performed. Maps were used to make sure that the small number of “orphan” hospital service areas – those surrounded by hospital service areas allocated to a different hospital referral region – were reassigned, in almost all cases, to ensure geographic contiguity. Hospital referral regions were pooled with neighbors if their
      populations were less than 120,000 or if less than 65% of their residents’ hospitalizations occurred within the region.”.

      Major cardiovascular surgery and neurosurgery for Medicare patients.

      That’s your idea of a generalized health care market?

      Here’s a hint – Hospital Service Areas are a lot closer to MSAs than Hospital Referral Regions.

      Of course, using the better statistic (HSA) would have prevented you from citing the one paragraph abstract on national HRR comparability.

      I guess when one is hunting for statistics in order to defend a pre-ordained conclusion once can’t be too particular about accuracy.

      1. Fine, let’s compare numbers on an HSA basis. What you’ll find is that the Fairfax and Falls Church HSAs have lower per-enrollee costs than the Richmond HSA, but the Arlington, Leesburg and Woodbridge HSAs have higher costs.

        There is absolutely no basis for concluding that the higher cigarette taxes in some NoVa jurisdictions but not others is correlated, as you postulate, with lower health care costs.

        The issue you raise of “net” Medicare contributions is legitimate in the context of inter-regional subsidies, but I cannot find any data that would allow us to make that calculation.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Unfortunately, once you move from HRRs to HSAs, you lose the presumed correlation between Medicaid and Medicare costs. Therefore, the HSA analysis falls flat on the question of Medicaid.

          You have also failed to adjust for population in the HSA analysis. How many people live in the Arlington, Leesburg and Woodbridge HSAs? How many in the Richmond HSA? What are the total dollars of difference?

          Also, what is your source for HSA costs?

  18. Don’s rhetorical jiu-jitsu — demand methodological and statistical perfection from the other guy. When perfection is lacking, declare victory. And persist in making claims with no factual or statistical underpinning whatsoever. It’s an old trick: set a much higher standard of proof for the other guy than yourself.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I didn’t write a blog post – you did. You cited incorrect, overlapping and confused statistics to support a conclusion you had determined in advance of any research. Michael Mann would be proud. Now, when your theory is “peer reviewed” you can’t tolerate the criticism of your approach.

      You need to admit that you screwed the pooch on this analysis. Either go back and do it right or move on.

      In fencing, the riposte (French for “retort”) is an offensive action with the intent of hitting one’s opponent, made by the fencer who has just parried an attack.

      You have parried nothing. However, your butchery of statistics qualifies as an offensive action.

  19. Unless I see some convincing proof – I would guess that the vast majority of Medicare medical care is rendered near to where people live while the more serious conditions ARE referred to regional centers.

    The senior living in in a rural area is going to likely get most of their care at the local level and only go to the regional centers when they need much higher level care.

    I think Jim picked an inappropriate statistic area to support his position and at the least if he wants to stick with his premise, needs to add some more evidence to the pot.

    this is a problem that we are seeing more and more – the motivation is often not to provide an objective view that others would agree on the framing even if they did not like the conclusions.

    we are seeing what essentially is confirmation bias presentations where the premise is supported by tilted and isolated data rather than comprehensive, evidence with multiple cross-confirming, consistent metrics.

    Everyone is doing this now. Virtually everything is “presented” to support a pre-ordained premise – a built-in bias in the process itself.

    I give Jim credit on MOST things – he, at least, recognizes the difference but on somethings.. he joins in with the crowd that traffics in tilted perspectives.

  20. DJRippert Avatar

    “There is absolutely no basis for concluding that the higher cigarette taxes in some NoVa jurisdictions but not others is correlated, as you postulate, with lower health care costs.”.

    More silliness – or, at least, poor wording.

    Do higher cigarette taxes discourage smoking?
    Does smoking lead to higher health care costs?

    Two pretty simple questions.

    You MIGHT be able to argue that the extra health care costs of higher smoking rates caused by low taxes are more than offset by something else. However, increasing the price of pretty much anything decreases demand and the more people smoke, the more they incur in health care costs.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      As I consider these questions, a truly disgusting possibility emerges.

      Do smokers actually have lower lifetime health care costs because they die, on average, some 10 years earlier than non-smokers (per the CDC)?

      Dear Lord – in the Solyent Green logic of Richmond’s political elite could they be saving money by making it easier to get addicted to tobacco and then die early in a horrible way?

      Wow. Just thinking these thoughts boggles the mind.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      Oh my – the low cigarette tax logic of Richmond’s elite may be every bit as gholish as I’d guessed.

      “However, smokers die some 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, according to the CDC, and those premature deaths provide a savings to Medicare, Social Security, private pensions and other programs.

      Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi studied the net costs of smoking-related spending and savings and found that for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country reaps a net cost savings of 32 cents.”.

      I just vomited in my mouth a little bit.

      Richmond’s elite are killing their own citizens and saving money in the process?

  21. Case closed.

    You can still feel as morally superior as ever — more, perhaps — but you’ve blown out the case for inter-regional wealth transfers.

    Thank you for your intellectual honesty.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      ” … blown out the case for inter-regional wealth transfers.”.

      Really? We have been talking about smoking related health care costs and nothing else. That hardly blows out the case for inter-regional wealth transfers, now does it?

      1. Pardon me. Let me be more precise. It blows out the case for inter-regional wealth transfers on basis of the cigarette taxes-drive-up-Medicaid-expenditures argument.

  22. DJRippert Avatar

    After we deal with smoking, I guess we’ll need to move to obsiety. What was Richmond’s recent rank? Second fattest city?

    Oh dear.

    More to ponder –

    “Using data from 9,852 men (average BMI: 28) and 13,837 women (average BMI: 27) ages 20 to 64, among whom 28 percent were obese, the researchers found even higher costs among the uninsured: annual medical spending for an obese person was $3,271 compared with $512 for the non-obese.”.

    However, help in ending this subsidy may be coming from an unlikely direction …

    “What you may not know is that the Affordable Care Act directly confronts this crisis in a number of ways— beginning with empowering employers to battle obesity by allowing them to charge obese employees 30 to 50 percent more in what they contribute toward their health insurance benefit should an employee refuse to participate in a qualified wellness program designed to help them lose weight.”.

    Maybe you guys ought to get cracking on those bike trails after all.

  23. reed fawell Avatar
    reed fawell

    Remarkable Riposte, Gentlemen!

  24. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Please, please, let’s NOT move on to obesity.
    I can’t stand the idea of you two “chewing the fat” so to speak!

  25. I get this image of two monstrous bull walruses butting heads.

  26. reed fawell Avatar
    reed fawell

    No, see today’s WSJ front page article on Two Bull Water Buffalo going at it.

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