Hey fat boy, I’m not talking to you. But alas, he will not stop looking at me in the mirror. I said, “Hey fat boy, they are going to tax your Coca Cola.” He smiled, “So what, they already tax the Jack Daniels in the Coke and the tobacco in my pipe. My wife said she would divorce me if I did not stop smoking and drinking and getting fat. Putting up with that was taxing. Her new husband is a wimp.”
The familiar refrain of the man who will not change – no matter what the penalty – is heard every day around this country. I just read in Time Magazine that “…the average American drinks a gallon of soda a week, which delivers roughly 1,000 calories and no nutrition.” So soda taxes have found their way into the legislative process. We have seen this before. Will sugar be then next target of the ‘sin tax?’ (With some of the material on the WWW perhaps there should be a tax on poor syntax).
Taxes on tobacco and alcohol are paid up front. Taxes on behaviors such as failure to use a seat belt or motorcycle helmets are levied after the fact. The non-smokers of America are tightening the thumb clamps on smokers – not only do smokers pay money up front to get the tobacco – they are restricted in where they may use their hard earned product. I like the law being debated in Kansas – no smoking except in casinos. The bar owners are crying discrimination. The whole argument is a moral conflict. The lawmakers say they are trying to help people be more healthy by discouraging smoking. Do they think that gambling while smoking will relieve the progression of emphysema and lung cancer? It looks like the bar owners may have registered a legitimate complaint – alcohol is as effective as gambling at treating smoking related illnesses.
There are all sorts of tax rules and regulations to promote marriage between a man and a woman. At a time when the world is facing the potential of overpopulation the USA continues to offer tax incentives to have children. If the legislators really wanted more children they might consider a tax on condoms.
Taxing particular products related to behavior and health begs the question – do these taxes actually change any behavior? Perhaps for a few – but changing that behavior is not the only purpose of the tax. We are seeing increased health care costs related to obesity. Almost everyone seems to grasp the health consequences of smoking tobacco. Excessive alcohol use also leads to health problems. The taxes raised on these specific products can raise necessary revenues to combat the health costs.
I worked in finance in a Hospital system for a while. When DRG’s (Diagnosis Related Groups) were introduced in the Reagan years specific costs were assigned to every possible diagnosis. A non smoking person age 65 who had gall bladder surgery, for instance, would cost the government $3,000. A smoking person age 65 with the same gall bladder surgery would cost the government $5,000 – the smoker’s recovery rate nearly doubled because of poor circulation and decreased oxygen. Remember folks – this is America – when we use the term government we are talking about your money. Similar studies have determined that obese people cost more for the treatment of the same illness. This is not even to mention the staggering increase in health care costs that are directly related to smoking or obesity.
Most Health Insurance Companies today charge a higher monthly premium for smokers. Some charge extra for obesity. Some grant monetary relief as a reward for regular documented exercise programs. I have heard the complaints from smokers – we might think that smoking affects the part of the brain that produces conspiracy theories normally associated with conservative dementia. I wish someone would query the folks at those Tea Parties – I wonder how many of them are smokers. There are symptoms of smoker dementia at the Tea Party Rallies. They carry signs screaming ‘Totalitarianism!” and “Communism!” – these are typical refrains heard from threatened tobacco users. We could make the case that Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman both suffered from too much second hand smoke somewhere in their past.
The radical right is up in arms. They are convinced that President Obama wants to grow a fat mustache and invade Poland. Tax soda? A clear totalitarian conspiracy to gradually take away the pleasures of the American way of life. They make us wear seat belts and motorcycle helmets and tax our tobacco and alcohol. They make businesses offer a safe working environment. And they want to take away our guns so we cannot smoke and drink and ride our fat asses on motorcycles and shoot guns at the same time. What is this country coming to? If this were the old days, like in Wyatt Earp days, a person would have the right to challenge the local Sheriff at the local horse corral. Whoever shoots fastest and most accurately wins – screw the government – we can work these problems out locally. Those cowboys did not have to wear helmets. And look at Ricky Nelson – he grew up in a home with no smoking or drinking and look what happened to him. Clearly smoking and drinking makes for better citizens.
There are some extremist in the Secession Movement that believe the government has no right to issue driver’s licenses. They claim a right to drive as inherent as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (These are the same people that claim basic health care is reserved for those who can pay). As far as I am concerned the Secessionist can drive without a license – but they cannot drive on the roads that I paid for. Let them drive around in some pasture somewhere, or build their own roads. Most of the people in the Secessionist Movement are pissed off because they have to wait for the first of the month to get their gov’ment check and they have to stand in line at the free health clinic.
We live in taxing times – and I am not just talking about money.