Senators who last week defeated a federal cigarette tax that would have provided medical coverage for 10 million uninsured children made one particularly intriguing argument. They said the proposal would cause a reduction in smokers--some people, particularly 14-year-old people, would be priced out of the market--and would therefore be financially damaging to the states. With fewer smokers, states would lose revenue from the taxes they levy on cigarettes.

A government's imperative to collect revenue is often unconnected with morality. In the late 1970s, for instance, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission supported an Atlantic City casino ban on card counters, who...

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