WASHINGTON — One of President Barack Obama's campaign pledges on taxes may have gone up in puffs of smoke Wednesday.
The largest increase in tobacco taxes took effect despite Obama's promise not to raise taxes of any kind on families earning less than $250,000 or individuals making less than $200,000.
This is one tax that disproportionately affects the poor, who are more likely to smoke than the rich.
To be sure, Obama's tax promises in last year's campaign were most often made in the context of income taxes, but not always.
"I can make a firm pledge," he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."
He repeatedly vowed "you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime."
Now in office, Obama, who stopped smoking but has admitted he slips now and then, signed a law raising the tobacco tax 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes, to $1.01. Other tobacco products saw similar or much steeper increases.
The extra money will be used to finance a major expansion of health insurance for children. That represents a step toward achieving another promise, to make sure all kids are covered.
The White House contends Obama's campaign pledge left room for measures such as the one financing children's health insurance.
"The president's position throughout the campaign was that he would not raise income or payroll taxes on families making less than $250,000, and that's a promise he has kept," said White House spokesman Reid H. Cherlin. "In this case, he supported a public health measure that will extend health coverage to 4 million children who are currently uninsured."
In some instances during the campaign, Obama was plainly talking about income, payroll and investment taxes, even if he did not say so. Other times, his point appeared to be that heavier taxation of any sort on average Americans is the wrong prescription in tough times.
"Listen now," he said in his widely watched nomination acceptance speech, "I will cut taxes — cut taxes — for 95 percent of all working families, because, in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class."