The president hasn’t mentioned it. The White House didn’t coordinate with outside anti-smoking groups, and none of them spent any time pushing for it. Tobacco companies never worried about putting together a lobbying strategy to kill it. Obama’s political arm hasn’t sent an email calling on Congress to consider it. Not even Obama’s surgeon general, who calls curbing smoking “the single most important issue for all the surgeons general of the past five decades,” put out a press release applauding the idea.
That’s the attitude within the West Wing, too — rather than a marquee idea, aides say the 94-cents-per-pack cigarette tax was in fact not a priority, and there are no plans to build a public case for it. The tax was just the most politically palatable idea they could come up with to pay for their big new entitlement program — and in the context of a budget debate they never expected to get serious, that was enough.
“If other people have other ideas, we’re happy to look at them,” a White House official said. “If there were another way to pay for this, we’d be open to it.”
White House officials described the cigarette tax as incidental to a larger goal of funding the universal preschool program. And they wouldn’t discuss the proposal Obama called “the right thing to do” on the record at all.