This section of the book is from the "Introduction To Public Finance" book, by Carl Copping Plehn.
We may now look at a few characteristic excises. The taxation of salt by means of an excise, collected in the form of a tax on producers, a tax on sellers, the sale of a monopoly to a private company, or state manufacture, is one of the oldest. On account of the nature of the commodity, a necessity for which there is no substitute, and of which poor and rich consume about the same amount, this tax acts practically as a poll tax. With the modern tendency to abolish or at least to lower poll taxes, as unequal and unjust, the salt tax has been largely abolished, or its rates have been so lowered as to practically nullify the returns. France to-day gets only 1,250,000 francs from the salt excises, to which should be added the customs duty, making a total of over 3,000,000 francs. The English salt tax yielded at the time of its abolition only £380,000. The United States war excise upon salt yielded only 1300,000.
The best, but not by any means the sole, example of the tobacco monopoly is in France. This interesting tax scheme began in 1674 under Colbert. It continued with slight interruptions for over a century as one of the most productive parts of the revenue system. It was leased to a ferme générale, who paid the government at the time of Necker 32,000,000 francs annually. At the time of the Revolution the monopoly was abolished, and an attempt was made to introduce a series of taxes on tobacco. But the monopoly was restored in 1810 by Napoleon I., and has continued ever since. Under the present law the culture of the plant is forbidden outside of certain localities. Each year the estimated amount required by the department is apportioned among the different applicants within the district where it is permitted to raise tobacco. Several thorough official inspections of the fields and crops are made, and even the number of plants and leaves is counted to ensure obedience with the regulation which demands the delivery of the whole crop to the government. Tobacco raised for export is similarly watched to see that none of it escapes into the channels of the French trade. The price for each quality is determined by a commission of officials and experts. A part, about one-half, of the supply is imported. The manufacture is carried on in public factories, which employ about 20,000 workmen. The sale is in the hands of some 40,000 petty officials, who receive a percentage of their sales and whose appointment is a part of the party spoils system. The revenues obtained in this way are enormous :
The prices charged for tobacco are high compared with the prices prevalent in other countries, so high that the consumption is apparently checked thereby, it being per capita less than one-half that of Germany. Austria and Italy have very similar State tobacco monopolies.