Right-Wing Media Parrot Rand Paul's Absurd Assertion That Cigarette Taxes Are To Blame For Eric Garner's Death

Conservative media parroted Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) claim that cigarette taxes were partly to blame in the choking death of Eric Garner by a New York City police officer following a grand jury decision not to indict the officer accused in the incident. Mainstream media outlets criticized the “fanciful” assertion, explaining Garner died due to excessive police force.

Grand Jury Decides Not To Indict Officer In Death Of Eric Garner

Grand Jury Votes Not To Indict Officer In Chokehold Death. On December 3, a Staten Island grand jury voted not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. In July, Garner died during an arrest attempt after allegedly selling untaxed loose cigarettes. [The Huffington Post, 12/3/14]

Rand Paul Blames Cigarette Taxes For Garner's Death

Rand Paul Points To Role Of Cigarette Taxes In Death Of Eric Garner. Appearing on the December 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) asserted his belief that cigarette taxes were partly at fault in the death of Eric Garner. Paul blamed “politicians” for driving the sale of cigarettes underground by “making them so expensive,” and for directing police officers to make arrests for the sales of loose cigarettes, saying “for someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians, we put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.” [MSNBC, Hardball, 12/3/14]

Conservative Media Parrot Paul's Claim That Cigarette Taxes Are At Fault For Garner's Choking Death

Hannity Agrees With Rand Paul's Claim That High Cigarette Taxes Played Role In Garner's Death. During the December 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity invited Senator Paul to discuss his comments that taxes played a role in the death of Eric Garner. Hannity agreed with Paul, arguing that there “are cops whose full-time jobs” are to check stop black market cigarette sales and that this played a role in Garner's death. [Fox News, Hannity, 12/4/14]

Limbaugh: Garner Died Because New York City Is “Hell-Bent” On Stopping Black Market Cigarettes. On the December 4 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh claimed that Garner died because “the city of New York is hell-bent on driving out the black market cigarette industry.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/4/14]

Fox's Gutfeld: Garner's Death A Consequence Of “Unnecessary Laws” And “Crazy Taxes” On Cigarettes. During the December 4 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld argued that taxes on cigarettes were to blame for Garner's death. Gutfeld claimed that “unnecessary laws” like “crazy taxes” on cigarettes, “have consequences, and in this case that consequence was death.” [Fox News, The Five, 12/4/14]

The Federalist: "Prohibitive Cigarette Taxes Unnecessarily Create Situations That Make Events Like This Possible." In a December 4 post on conservative online magazine The Federalist, David Harsanyi argued that although Garner wasn't “targeted for death” for selling untaxed cigarettes, laws of this nature “create situations that make events like” like Garner's death “possible”:

Garner wasn't targeted for death because he was avoiding taxes, but nonetheless, prohibitive cigarette taxes unnecessarily create situations that make events like this possible.


Garner was selling singles, incidentally. Does anyone believe that isn't a waste of time for police and prosecutors? Even if your position is that government has an important role in deciding what you should ingest, cigarette smoking has been dropping for decades around the country. It was dropping before sin taxes. It's dropping in places there are no sin taxes. Other than inconveniencing poor people, sin taxes offer us nothing. Well, maybe a little tax revenue. A bit of social engineering. And sometimes a death. [The Federalist, 12/4/14]

Media Outlets Lambast Contention That Cigarette Taxes Played Role In Garner's Death

The New Republic: “Cigarette Taxes Did Not Cause Eric Garner's Death.” In a December 3 The New Republic article, Danny Vinik criticized conservative media personalities for claiming taxes played a role in Garner's death, emphasizing that the claim is actually servicing a broader conservative “argument against all taxes,” and noting the absurdity of such an argument because “you can't have a society with no taxes unless you want a society with no government services.” Vinik concluded that Garner is not dead due to New York City's cigarette taxes but “because a cop put him in a chokehold”:

One other consequence of high cigarette taxes, as we have seen in New York City, is that they create black markets for selling cigarettes cheaply. That sets up further confrontations between police and civilians. In rare cases, those confrontations will end with someone dead. That shouldn't have happened with Garner. He may have been resisting arrest at first but Pantaleo used a chokehold to bring him to ground. That is against police protocol. While Garner was on the ground, Pantaleo pressed his head against the cement as Garner said that he couldn't breathe--during that time, he was not resisting arrest.

In other words, Eric Garner is not dead because New York City imposes high cigarette taxes. He's dead because a cop put him in a chokehold, in violation of NYPD rules, and held his head against ground. [The New Republic, 12/3/14]

CNN's Toobin: Eric Garner Is “Dead Because Of Abusive Police Tactics,” Not Taxes. On the December 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin criticized the “fanciful” conservative idea that high taxes caused Garner's death, asserting that Garner's death “had nothing to do with cigarette taxes,” but was actually caused by “abusive police tactics.” [CNN, The Situation Room, 12/4/14, via Media Matters]

MSNBC: "Hiking Taxes On Cigarettes And Banning The Sale Of Loose Cigarettes Doesn't Require Cops To Use Lethal Force Against Violators Of The Law." In a December 4 MSNBC blog, Aliyah Frumin pointed out that enforcing laws that prohibit the sale of untaxed cigarettes “doesn't require cops to use lethal force,” and noted that Garner did not “die as a direct result” of New York City cigarette taxes, “he died because he was put into a chokehold, a tactic banned by the NYPD”:

Critics contend that Paul's theory is flawed, to say the least. Garner didn't die as a direct result of the New York Legislature passing a law in 2010 increasing taxes on cigarettes bought in New York City to $5.85 a pack. He died because he was put into a chokehold, a tactic banned by the NYPD in 1994. Even if high taxes on cigarettes create a vibrant black market for cigarettes, critics say that has little to do with how police officers enforce those laws. Hiking taxes on cigarettes and banning the sale of loose cigarettes doesn't require cops to use lethal force against violators of the law. [MSNBC.com, 12/4/14]