Sep. 2, 2009

Junk food tax is not much different from a cigarette tax

Forgive my friend, Gary, here. He prefers name-calling to actually making a point. The point is, like me, he doesn't mind a tax on cigarettes, because it will pull in revenue while also discouraging a harmful practice -- smoking, which despite Gary's splitting of hairs, is no longer the physical threat to his health he wants to make it out to be, since the proliferation of no-smoking zones (thankfully) has removed much of the concern about secondhand smoke.
No, just like obesity, smoking is a serious societal problem, because it creates huge health issues, which, excuse Gary's ignorance, does hurt him, and you and me, too. That's because obesity -- one of America's most serious and costliest health crises -- significantly raises health care premiums for everyone. Just like the idiots who ride motorcycles without a helmet, jacking up my rates every time they spill their brains on the highway. (By the way, I think Gary supports a helmet law, too.)
We are a nation on such a sugar high, most of us won't admit that we are the very fat people we make jokes about. Our kids are so fat, juvenile diabetes is one of the biggest health threats confronting tomorrow's leaders.
What are we going to do about it? Sit around and tell more fat jokes? Whine about the "nanny state" taking control of our choices?
Please. If you want to gorge yourselves on Oreos and Ding-Dongs, don't let me stop you. You want to stuff your kids' mouths full of French fries, pizza and soda, knock yourself out.
But taxing the poor choices you make, and the impact they have on the rest of us, is a smart strategy toward shaking some people out of their diabetic coma. And if it helps bring down the deficit along the way, all the better.
And please, don't get me wrong. I am not immune to sugar cravings. But I don't mind paying an extra dollar to indulge in my mint chocolate chip cookie ice cream, or yes, my Girl Scout cookies. Please, I pay out the nose for Thin Mints anyway, and happily, because they go toward a good cause.
That's the point here, too -- the cause: a healthier America. Personally, I'm willing to dig a little deeper to contribute toward the greater good. Isn't that the American way?
If you splurge every now and then on an unhealthy treat, it won't leave you too much the worst for wear, in the waistline or the pocketbook. But if you eat poorly every day, under the sin tax, it will cost you both ways. Creating a financial incentive toward healthier living is just smart economics. Money is the only thing that talks to some people.
And saying poor people will pay the price is knee-jerk liberalism at its worst. Anyone can eat healthy cheaply. Many people are just too lazy to try to figure out how, largely because they've never had a good reason. A tax on junk could be just the incentive they need.
Those of you who think it'll be so hard to figure out what's junk food and what's not, go back to elementary school. A kindergartner can tell the difference. It's not heart surgery.