Monday, January 11, 2010

Death and Taxes

I don’t normally watch the evening news. I’m around news all day, I read news websites, and by 6:30 I can probably give you a detailed summary of all the major events of the day with my eyes closed.

But, I was watching CBS evening news the other night (I was waiting for Jeopardy!), and there was a segment on obesity. The normal ideas were trotted out: more gym classes, taxes on “junk food”, all healthy foods in the cafeteria, etc.

I have several problems with this, not just because I like my Diet Coke, but because I needed that “junk” food when I was in high school. I needed as many calories as I could stuff into my body, because CF patients are extremely malnourished. Sure, we can wear a 00, but we can also look like African refugees. Not a good look. Coke machines, and the candy sold in the school store, helped my weight more than any apple or orange would have. The emphasis wasn’t so much on health food as food that will make me bigger.

Now I realize that CF kids are in the minority. But what about diabetics, who drink Diet Coke instead of juice? Most juices are packed with sugar. I don’t drink juice anymore unless I absolutely have to—as in, it’s the only choice at a hotel breakfast buffet. I’d much rather have coffee, milk, tea, or diet soda. Fruits send blood sugar levels sky-high. So what’s often considered “junk food” can be necessary food for a lot of people.

So, I think increasing these taxes, or banning these foods in schools, is an awful idea for a lot of the population. If you don’t want your kids to eat it, don’t give them pocket money. If they have pocket money in high school, from a job or whatever, they can make their own decisions. If theychoose junk food, that’s their choice. It doesn’t affect anyone but them.

The CBS story also likened taxing junk food to taxing cigarettes. Of course, the big difference is that cigarette smoke harms other people directly. I love taxes on cigarettes. My favorite cigarette tax story is from Cleveland—there, they use the money to fund arts programs. (We’ll forget about the fact that a lot of artists—including, lamentably, singers—smoke. At least they’re funding their own jobs.) But if you decide to eat a Big Mac every day for the rest of your life, that doesn’t directly affect me.

The argument can be made that it will affect me, indirectly, in rising health care costs. But everything we do can, indirectly, affect others. For example, I don’t think there should be seatbelt laws requiring adults to wear seatbelts. If you’re 18 or 25 or 62, and you decide that you don’t want to wear one, you can face the consequences of those actions. But that’s your choice. Part of living in a free society is the ability to make these choices.

My friend Richelle wrote a post about a Senate proposal that would tax indoor tanning. Now, while I think that indoor tanning—really, any tanning where the purpose is to turn yourself the color of a rotisserie chicken—is ridiculous (because, yeah, we need more cancer-causing agents in our lives), especially in Ohio in February, I don’t think the tax would serve as a deterrent. As my friend Candi noted, tanning is relatively cheap—packages can be bought for around $20. A 10% tax on $20 isn’t a very large deterrent. And, again, it’s a personal choice—one that I happen to think is inane, but hey, if you want skin cancer, that’s your call.

I draw the line here—things like cigarettes, that affect other people, should be taxed, banned, whatever. If you want to smoke at home, or in a smoking room (a la Titanic, or a British men’s club), sure, go ahead. But I (especially I) do not need, or want, to breathe in your toxic smoke. Sorry. So government can tax the hell out of it.

Tanning, junk food, etc.: These are personal choices. They do not affect me or other people. You are not clogging my arteries by eating those pounds of Doritos. And, like I stated above, some people need high-calorie, high-fat foods. Some people need diet drinks. I know of no people who need cigarettes for better health.

(NOTE: I’m tacking this one at the end in case I get some readers who aren’t regulars. Abortion is not a personal choice. You are directly killing another human being. Case closed.)


The Fashion Vagabond said...

This is a very thought-provoking post, Emily!
I have two ideas that come to mind here. One) Could it be possible for the gov to stop subsidizing corn and soybeans, thus driving up the price of those junk foods, hamburgers, etc.? Just get rid of the subsidies. Not all people are fortunate enough to be able to choose to eat healthy food. Unfortunately, more often than not, the choice is made for them in the form of what they can afford and that end result happens to be crap from McDonald's.
Two) When the person in the cubicle next to us develops skin/lung/any type of cancer, we all pay more through our premiums (and this would continue even with a socialized health plan- we have this now!). So, we are all inadvertently affected by others' poor choices...even when that individual elected to make that personal decision. We're actually more affected by this under the current health system.

Emily said...

Oh I totally think we should stop subsidizing corn and soybeans. Amen there.
Your choices are not made FOR you, when it comes to junk food, though. Even at McD's, there are healthier options. You can get a regular hamburger for 99 cents, and it's actually not that bad for you.
As for being inadvertently affected--I did mention that. But that's how insurance works. People who never have accidents or get sick pay for people who DO have accidents, or get sick. I'm sure there are people on my health plan who never use any of the benefits. Then there are people like me--who use them in abundance. Any system of group insurance works this way.