Morris Coats

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Morris Coats was an economist who worked extensively for the tobacco industry through a number of different channels. He was one of stable of economic, legal and scientific witnesses who were regularly called into service by the Tobacco Institute: they were available to talk to the media at press-conferences or on a one-on-one basis; act as 'expert witnesses' to defend the cigarette companies in court cases; or provide 'independent expert' opinion for local ordinance inquiries, or for legislative hearings.

Coats also became a member of the Cash for Comment Economists Network run by James Savarese (originally from Ogilvy & Mather, later via his own company James Savarese & Associates with the assistance of Professor Robert Tollison and a few George Mason University professors who provided a lobby service through the Libertarian think-tank, the Center for the Study of Public Choice.

Coats must have been ill paid at xxx university because he appears to have been actively seeking witness work from the tobacco industry. Through the Savarese/Tollison Economist Network he also took regular commissions to write op-ed articles promoting the tobacco industry's line against excise tax increases, and various other lines that had an impact on smoking. The Professors of Economics at one or more State Universities in each of the American states regularly wrote these op-eds for their local newspapers (specified by their handlers) and then sent copies of the article to two local Congressmen (also specified by the handlers). A standard commission of between $600 and $2000 was paid for each of these services; less for letters-to-the-editor.

The standard line for these economists was to maintain that excise taxes were regressive, and therefore implying that they were simply public spirited men-of-learning, critical of an unfeeling government, who was unfairly burdening low-income families. It was a good line that was easily saleable to the editors of many of the smaller local newspapers.

Cigarette taxes . . .Regressive or Progressive?
Taxes are considered 'regressive' when they consume more of a low-paid worker's income than that of a person on a higher salary. Therefore all excises and all goods or services taxes are 'regressive' if they are imposed on essentials ... because they must be purchased by the poor as well as the rich.

    These economists mislead politicians and the public by labelling cigarette taxes "Regressive" without revealing the hidden assumption that cigarette costs do not influence buying behaviour. However we know that as the price of cigarettes rose the amount smoked by the poor decreased quite rapidly. The poor then spent less on tobacco; had fewer days of absenteeism; had fewer long-term health problems and fewer medical bills. So this excise tax was probably highly "Progressive" in both health and financial terms.

    The only problem was, the so-called national "Death Benefit" of smoking: both the smoker and their families survived longer. But the longevity of ex-smokers and their offspring made them more of a burden on society in their old age.