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Fat v. Cigarettes and Marge Simpson(41 posts)

Fat v. Cigarettes and Marge SimpsonSintesi
Jan 8, 2003 6:44 AM
Alright, I know this has been hashed a few times on this board, but what exactly is the big difference between being overweight and being a smoker? Apparently from this article it would seem not much, at least from a health perspective. If cigarrettes can be taxed heavily and banned outright then shouldn't the same restrictions be placed on sugary, fatty foods? I believe the rationale for taxing smokes is to pay for their impact on medical resources (i.e. relieve the tax burden on nonsmokers) and to underwrite anti-smoking campaigns, not to mention giving smokers an incentive to quit. Couldn't the same be done for "unhealthy foods" such as ice cream, prime rib and pork rinds (fro example) which contribute to obesity and heart disease? These people have got to be taking their toll on medical resources, insurance rates, etc....

I saw a Simpsons' episode the other day where Marge went on an anti-obesity campaign and went after the "Big" sugar companies. After a stunning court victory sugar was banned prohibition style and the town went nuts. Well, are we that far from such a scenario? Maybe we should make people go outside to enjoy their Doritos and Slurpies.

What do you guys think? Is it reasonable to tax foods with heavy amounts of sugar and fat as a "sin" tax much the way tobacco and booze is? I do.
fundamental differenceDougSloan
Jan 8, 2003 7:41 AM
People have to eat. They don't have to smoke. While foods have varying nutritional qualities, some better than others, they are not inherently dangerous, like smoking is.

Smoking is an activity that, if totally eliminated, would not harm the human race one iota (despite what some addicted smokers might protest). Food is different. It's in a whole different category of things, as it is necessary to survival. At a minimum, that makes it a much more difficult issue.

I'm not in favor of banning things, even despite my contempt for tobacco use.

in additionColnagoFE
Jan 8, 2003 8:01 AM
secondhand smoke has been shown to be bad for non-smokers inhaling it so smoking might be affecting those who abstain as well. Fatty foods and sugar don't have this problem. i have no problems with people smoking whatever they want to as long as they don't impose it on me.
agree nmDougSloan
Jan 8, 2003 8:08 AM
Do you enjoy paying the increased medical costs?Sintesi
Jan 8, 2003 9:08 AM
I don't think you can safely say it affects only themselves.

I'm not saying ban foods but rather tax them if they have an inordinate percentage of fat or sugar since they have relativley little nutritional value. In coming years I think an idea like this will eventually catch on. One should pay as they go for health risks. You pay car insurance and pay tolls if you drive, you pay taxes if you smoke and or booze. I mean by your logic boozers shouldn't pay liquor taxes, right? Cigarettes shouldn't be taxed but only its use banned in public amongst non-consenting adults. The're not hurting anyone but themselves (except when they drink and drive and murder people in a drunken rampage but that is a whole 'nother issue). Is the "sin" tax simply absurd? Maybe.

By the way society would not be hurt one iota if malomars and chocolate fudge sundays were banned (or taxed actually)either. In fact it would be a great boon since people wouldn't be croaking as much from their abuse.

If "sin" tax is fair then I submit that overeating and indulging in high caloric foods is a "sin" since overweight and obese persons put an inordinate burden on society by virtue of their health risks. These foods are killing people plain and simple and apparently at the same rate as tobacco.
What increased medical costs?mohair_chair
Jan 8, 2003 9:22 AM
People today live longer than ever before (now, more than ever), thereby guaranteeing increased medical costs. If obesity imposes health risks that can shorten life spans, I'd say that would have to lessen medical costs overall, not to mention food and housing costs. I say this with some sarcasm.

This idea will never catch on, so might as well drop it now. What you really should tax is overeating and indulgence, not the foods themselves.

And you need to think of the inevitable and direct consequences, which is companies using more sugar and fat substitutes to get their numbers down so people can afford to buy their stuff. Now you've got really unhealthy stuff, like trans fatty acids and olestra. Better living through chemicals, right? Think that's going to decrease or increase medical costs?
I've heard that same argument for booze and smokes.Sintesi
Jan 8, 2003 11:00 AM
So why not remove the tax on those products and encourage their consumption to save Social Security? More people dying less cost for you and me.

Under the Sintesi plan the transfatties and the olestra would be taxed as well if they lack nutritional content.

Actually if obesity rates continue to rise and medical costs continue to soar I can see an idea like this catching hold somewhere. Think, if Medicare/Medicaid becomes untenable people are going to get there tax money from somewhere. (Moneyman is on the money once again -see below) I think this might happen in the not too distant future. Remember you read it here first and it's called the Sintesi Plan.
Don't kid yourselfmoneyman
Jan 8, 2003 9:45 AM
Sin taxes are not meant to discourage consumption. They are meant to raise revenue for governments. If governments really wanted to discourage consumption of bad things, they would either: A)Raise taxes an outrageous amount, e.g., $100 on a pack of smokes, or; B)Make them illegal. Instead, they calculate the tax rate at which consumption stays high enough to keep the revenue stream rising, without it being too much to eliminate it altogether. Much like the Laffer curve we discussed earlier.

has limitsDougSloan
Jan 8, 2003 9:50 AM
At some point, if taxes are too high, the black market takes over, sort of like when things are banned; then revenues decrease and costs of enforcement skyrocket.

Jan 8, 2003 10:00 AM
my thoughts exactly. Local TV (national?) is running these ads basically equating use of marijuana (drugs in general) with supporting terrorism via the money revenue drug sales potentially provide. They seem oblivious to the fact that if they de-criminalized drugs they would eliminate the black market that provides money for terrorists and anybody else willing to deal for his money rather than work. Not to mention the huge revenue boost the government would get via taxation, new cash crops for farmers, etc.
Then again prohibition worked so well for alcohol why not just keep going down that dead-end with all the other drugs?
complex, tough issuesDougSloan
Jan 8, 2003 10:35 AM
Some argue that the government should not benefit or take advantage (taxes) of any "bad" behavior, for if the government taxes bad behavior, it has little incentive to reduce it.

Libertarians favor allowing just about anything. While I fundamentally agree, I think we can't ignore real consequences of potential outcomes. Do we really want a country of addicts, potheads, and drunks (yes, I'm hyperbolizing for dramatic effect)? Sure, we'll be free, but free of a bunch of brain cells (and productivity), too.

Prohibition didn't work, obviously. I think a main reason was that so many people already liked drinking, though, at least compared to the numbers who are already smoking pot or doing opium. The vital difference, and maybe the only real one, is purely the numbers of people who were already doing it.

A strong argument can be made for not legalizing something purely because of lost revenue, enforcement costs, or benefits to some we don't like. If (and I mean "if") something is truly wrong, then we should restrict it, no matter the economic consequence. Heck, the government could probably benefit much more by legalizing and taxing all sort of exisiting crimes -- prostitution, driving laws (drive as fast as you want, just pay a speeding tax), or even fraud and violent crimes. Don't ban drunk driving, just tax it, for example.

Sometimes principles and reality conflict. That's when things get difficult.

I think the media/government...Wayne
Jan 8, 2003 11:00 AM
has created this perception that the only thing keeping this society from becoming a bunch of drug addicts is the drug war. I sincerely doubt that addiction would increase all that much. Your not addicted to smoking are you? How about alcohol?
Your analogy concerning drunk driving, etc. (although I would include prostitution as one of those things that should be legalized) isn't valid since drug use only directly effects the person using. While I suppose you could see a rise in other crimes such as theft if there were more addicts the police would have more than enough time to deal with it because they wouldn't be fighting the war on drugs.
Major Libertarian misconception...Matno
Jan 11, 2003 1:02 PM
"Drug use only directly effects the person using."


Drug use affects everyone indirectly and MANY people directly. Children and spouses of drug users are affected directly. Tax payers who pay for drug treatment programs are affected directly (that's you and me, pal). If we fail to have any sort of moral basis to what we allow and don't allow in our society, our personal liberties will cease to exist. Most Libertarians (or any other proponents of drug legalization) are too short sighted to see that.
You Hit the Nail on the Head!!! nmJon Billheimer
Jan 9, 2003 10:15 AM
too slippery of a slopeColnagoFE
Jan 8, 2003 10:37 AM
they tried that with prohibition and the current war on drugs and the main problems i can think of offhand are that if there is a demand there will be a supply. also who would be the one to judge what is "healthy" and what gets banned?
Sin TaxesAlpedhuez55
Jan 8, 2003 9:15 AM
THat episode of the Simpsons was funny. The one on South Park a couple of weeks ago was funny too. They had some of the townspeople go through the Museum of Tolerance because the boys were accused of Gay Bashing against Mr. Garrison. When they got through the museum, a man was sitting by a fountain smoking and they started to call him names!!!

I do not mind sin taxes on Tobacco and Alcohol. People do not need these to survive.

I do not favor it on food products though. Sure most of them are things we do not need. People can get on healthy foods though. I used to work with a 400 pound vegitarian. Who will decide on that is healthy and what is not? Will you get a waiver if you buy your Little Debbies for energy on a bike ride? Will you tax Ice Cream, Twinkies and Milky Way Bars but not Frozen Yogurt, Lite Twinkies & Milky Way Lite? What do you do next, put a 50% tax all clothing over size Medium?

You can argue about not serving sugary snacks at schools. In high School, clubs & Sports Teams would always raise money by selling M&Ms or candy bars. I would also question weather Food Stamps should be used to buy Junkfood. I think most of us have been in line behind someone buying chips, chocolate or cup cakes with food stamps.

I think we pay enough in taxes already. We have pleanty of resources available already to teach people to live a healthy lifestyle. Maybe some of the Anti Smoking money can be used to promote a healthy lifestyle and not focus solely on just smoking. Just a thought.

Mike Y.
obesity tax? death tax?DougSloan
Jan 8, 2003 9:34 AM
There you go; get to the real heart of the matter; tax the consequence, not the thing itself. For all we know, there are lots of skinny bike riders out there (he he) who can eat crap all day long and not be ill.

Once a year, everyone gets on a scale and has a full medical workup. You are assigned points for this and that, and given a number. You then are taxed according to your real health, not some arbitrary thing. Of course, this will be discriminatory in effect, as minorities can't afford as good food or preventative health care, or exercise opportunities, and all will go down the tubes.

Better yet, simply tax premature death and illness. If a death or illness is deemed premature or avoidable (for a whole list of causes), you (or your estate) gets taxed! Now that's fair, isn't it? The new "death tax."

Sin TaxesSintesi
Jan 8, 2003 9:39 AM
I'm not proposing taxing all foods, just those that have little or no nutrional value. Let's say just about everything you can find in a 7-11. Candy, twinkies, Cool Ranch Flavored Doritos. No one needs those to survive. Just pay a premium if that's what you want to eat. If you put junk in your body that causes bad health then you should pay extra for it. No waivers btw, so if I become boss of the world you either buy Cliff bars or pay a withering sin tax on Little Debby treats. I may be lenient on Fig Newtons, I'll have to consult my nutritionist.

People get fat, I'm not saying taxing people by the pound either. Your vegetarian friend would be unaffected under the Sintesi tax plan. Look, some people die of lung cancer, heart failure and liver disease who don't smoke or drink and therefore they don't pay the "sin" taxes we now all accept and enforce.

I merely think that what is good sauce for the goose is good sauce for the gander.
more "sin taxes"?DougSloan
Jan 8, 2003 9:45 AM
To be fair, if you are taxing sins, what about promiscuity, adultery, sodomy, those types of things that have very, very real physical health consequences (statistically)? Fair if fair, right? Or do you want to pick and choose the sins to tax?

Yes! my ultimate point exactly.Sintesi
Jan 8, 2003 11:26 AM
Sin taxes are absurd to begin with. If the Sintesi Dorito tax is a crazy tax then aren't the others crazy as well. Conversely: Fair is indeed fair if sin taxes are fair then my Dorito tax is equally fair. I liked your "death tax" that is truly cool. I tip my cycling cap.

Here's the deal, I think this is a real possiblilty in the not too distant future. 60 years ago the majority of Americans smoked, the idea that you could ban them from public places, completely goofy. So I wonder, direct link between fat and death (medical studies will continue to chime in over the coming decades) combined with decreasing revenue as the tax base shrinks = Junk Food tax. I think this will happen if people continue to get fatter. Isn't obesity already considered an epidemic? I am merely positing a logical conclusion to our already existing tax mentallity.

Logically it's no worse than any other sin tax so, yeah, why not?

I don't think you want to tax the eventualities tho, the more I think of it, since, as pointed out earlier, even vegetarians get fat. The Sintesi Sin tax would be seen as a tempering, humane tax which would promote leanness and boost the coffers to defer the costs to society. Just like the $7.50 smokes in NY. If it's only about the money, as Moneyman points out, then great more money and perhaps a reduced obesity rate.

This plan is unstoppable! I'm almost willing to bet our kids will pay a tax like that in their lifetime. Sorry baby Luke. : )
Tax isn't the answer..Insurance rates are the answerPaulCL
Jan 8, 2003 12:26 PM
If you are obese, you should pay more medical insurance and life insurance costs. If in shape, then less. Discrimination?? No. Think about it...with health care insurance we "discriminate" against pre-existing conditions, age, against dangerous hobbies (skydiving, scuba, etc), so why not the dangerous hobby of overeating???

Why should I, a physically fit 40 year old male, pay the same insurance as my 300lb neighbor?? Not fair. Problem is: Washington is full of lardbutts who are voted in by larbutts. We are now in the minority. But what an incentive to stay fit. "Stay fit, save $1000 per year on health insurance!!"
Then for the sake of Fairness.....Alpedhuez55
Jan 8, 2003 11:13 AM
I weigh 300 pounds. If you are correct, I will not see the age of 50 let alone 65. Therefore I will not need to use Social Security. Would the Sintessi Tax Plan Eliminate my payroll or reduce deduction for Social Security? I could use that extra money to buy more Twinkies and pay into the Twinkie Tax and die even younger. I may even have enough disposable income to take up smoking!!! ;)

Doug is right about sin taxes. They try to raise them as much as they can and the sales drop because people either order them over the Internet from Indian Reservations or in New Hampsire. In Massachusetts they are talking about checking people at the NH border for Cigarettes to recoup lost the sales tax. Your Tax Dollars at Work!!!

Mike Y.
Sure if you can get the same break for my alcoholic Grandpa.Sintesi
Jan 8, 2003 11:34 AM
I like that: "i promise to do my best to eat, smoke or drink myself to an early grave if you agree to waive my FICA tax." Man, the juices are flowing. : )

BTW, I would not tax your poundage or doctor visits merely your consumption of twinkies and pork rinds. If you maintain your girth eating healthy, well balanced food products, then more power to ya. It's a pay-as-you go plan, not pay-as-you-arrive plan.
what if you gorge on good food, though? nmDougSloan
Jan 8, 2003 11:35 AM
How About higher Sewer Taxes?Alpedhuez55
Jan 8, 2003 11:57 AM
THey have more fiber in their diet. That would mean they put more strain on the sewage systems. Why not tax them on it!!! We can also add a Sewage tax stamps to prunes, beans & Bran Flakes as well ;)
Bless me! We do have a versatile tax system.Sintesi
Jan 8, 2003 12:09 PM
It can cure a host of ills.
Well. . .Sintesi
Jan 8, 2003 12:04 PM
That's just the breaks. Some people gorge and never gain a pound, some eat moderately and their heart valves blow at age 55. Same for any of our afore mentioned sins. There is some unfairness, as goes with any "sin" tax. Grandpa smokes and drinks and does the two-step into his late eighties, goes way past the demographics and yet dutifully pays his "sin" taxes. Is he subsidizing those who get lung cancer yet never smoke a day in their lives? What right to they get to have "free" cancer? Granddad got gypped didn't he? I think we have to keep our eye on the aggregate amount of people saved by the Sintesi plan.
Some foods are simply of no nutritional value.czardonic
Jan 8, 2003 10:51 AM
It is silly to say that twinkies (for example) are different than cigarettes, because twinkies are "food". Are they? There are many junk foods that have little to no nutritional value, and taxing them wouldn't put an undue burden on anyones ability to nourish themselves. In my experience, healthy foods are often cheaper than processed junk.

Then again, I was practically raised on ice-cream, candy and soda (and those notoriously unhealthy public school lunches), and I have always been relatively thin and in good health. Wouldn't taxing me for junk-food be an even more direct way of forcing me to pay for the health problems of the obese? I agree that people should be responsible for their own health, and the costs to maintain it. But I'd prefer to exact that cost from those who actually pose a greater burden to our healthcare system.

And speaking of unhealthy school lunchs, how about this idea: Hundreds of millions of tax dollars are spent on subsidies to milk and meat producers for fatty, unhealthy foods that are served to our increasingly obese children via the National School Lunch Program. Why not kill two birds with one stone by eliminating a significant contributor to childhood obesity and freeing up money to spend on health care?
Some foods are simply of no nutritional value.Sintesi
Jan 8, 2003 11:46 AM
You're like my grandad, who drinks and smokes and is healthy as a horse in his mid-eighties (he's quite a dancer). He pays his sin taxes like a man. I'd say it's a tough break that you have to be burdened by the Sintesi Dorito tax, but it's for the betterment of society, plus you don't need those chips anyway.

BTW, if you earn a good living and become a productive citizen, you can reward yourself using your disposable income on privilege taxed potato chips. It's the poor slobs in the ghetto that are forced to eat apples and cottage cheese. Pringles will become a status symbol.

I can dig the new czardonic lunch program.
Betterment of society has always been a passion of mine.czardonic
Jan 8, 2003 12:02 PM
At the end of the day, I can't argue with the fact that while I can eat Doritos with out becoming morbidly obese, I'd be better off without them.

Hmm, is it a coincidence that all that fatty govermnet cheese is now unloaded on public school children and those poor slobs in the ghetto?
Wow, I'll have no money leftmohair_chair
Jan 8, 2003 12:08 PM
So now we not only have to pay taxes on food we like to eat, but now we also have to pay skyrocketing prices for meat and milk products, since their subsidies have been removed and they are probably taxed as well.

What's next, Soylent Green? Or will that be taxed too, because everyone is supposedly obese?

Let's also step back and acknowledge that how the government and media defines "obese" is a joke. The BMI index, which is the standard, is one of the most flawed concepts ever.

Furthermore, let's take a new look at what the government considers nutritious, since that is what your tax will be based upon. The old USDA pyramid still being taught and talked about is a joke. In fact, the USDA is in the process of defining a new one where carbs are de-emphasized and many fats are okay (olive oil, for instance). It turns the old pyramid on its head.

If you ever want to sell your fat/sugar tax, you had better start working on a realistic and reasonable definition of what is "nutritious," because the government doesn't seem to know. It can't be a narrowly-defined "feeling" either, such as fat equals bad, sugar equals bad. Good luck with that.
You're already paying elevated prices.czardonic
Jan 8, 2003 12:28 PM
First, for meat and cheese who's price is inflated by false scarcity. And second by subsidizing the both the creation of that false scarcity, and the over-production that makes it necessary in the first place.

So, because there's no unqualified fool-proof solution, we should just sit on our hands? There's no such thing as "perfect", but there are such things as "better" and "worse".
huh? Of course!!!mohair_chair
Jan 8, 2003 12:41 PM
If we are going to start taking money from people (i.e., TAXES), I'd say we better damn well be sure that it will directly lead to less obesity, less diabetes, and lower medical costs. There had better be a clear path to a payoff. I don't see it here.

Otherwise, I'll keep the money I earn, thank you very much. I'm not interested in throwing good money after bad because of some theory that it will help. If there is no unqualified fool-proof solution, we'll all just have to wait until you come up with one.
Imagine if the people in charge of national security. . .czardonic
Jan 8, 2003 1:00 PM
. . .had this kind of do nothing without guarunteed results (i.e. nothing) attitude.

Uh-oh. . . .
and that is supposed to mean...what?mohair_chair
Jan 8, 2003 1:18 PM
No offense, but that is a terrible comparison. Most of the job of national security is to appear to be doing nothing, with the results being that nothing happens. That's why we have a big army, navy, etc. It's about deterrence. The government taxes me, and in turn, it keeps me safe.

What you want to do is levy a tax for experimental purposes. You want to tax popular foods, which means create an infrastructure for collection, monitoring, judgement panels, etc., with the hope that you will have some effect on obesity. I say it doesn't work that way.

I have an idea. Let's tie these two things together. Instead of the armed forces standing idle during peacetime, let's arm them and post them wherever products "with no nutritional value" are sold. They will act as a deterrent force, scaring and intimidating buyers. Want a Snickers? You gotta knock down that leatherneck, because he's standing in the way. Watch out for that Delta Force sniper perched inside the paper towel display. This is a more reasonable use of my tax dollars to fight obesity!
There's a difference between "appearing" to do nothing. . .czardonic
Jan 8, 2003 1:44 PM
. . .and actually doing nothing. The government doesn't keep you 100% safe, in case you didn't notice. Of course, 100% safe is an impossibility, and focusing more resources on one area leaves another less defended. By you logic, we shouldn't be trying to improve anything unless a bullet-proof system is devised.

I don't want to tax people for simply out of the hope that it will have some effect on obesity. The whole point was to make those who damage their health pay a greater share of the cost to repair that damage. In other words, have people pay for the actual cost of their choices. Heck, even if junk food hasn't made me unhealthy, it has a lot of other people. Now that I think of it, why shouldn't I pay a premium to keep foods available to me that cost everyone else higher taxes and insurance premiums?
now you're a conservativeDougSloan
Jan 8, 2003 1:54 PM
>people pay for the actual cost of their choices

Imagine that. What you are really saying is forget insurance, pay for your health care yourself. Imagine the benefits of that? What? I might have to pay my own health care expenses if I don't eat right? What a utopia that would be...

Can't be avoided. I'm a conservative twice a day. (nm)czardonic
Jan 8, 2003 2:38 PM
Legalize weed and tax snacks? Now we're thinkin' with gas!128
Jan 8, 2003 11:58 AM
And who passed out the 'shrooms here today!! Holy cow! Maybe we should forward this thread to the White House??
That's "cookin'" with gas and "thinkin' like Lincoln."Sintesi
Jan 8, 2003 12:06 PM
Maybe we shouldn't be legalizing the "weed" just as of yet.
Hows is the economy impacted if people stopped buying junk food?Kristin
Jan 9, 2003 10:36 AM
I think that's a big question to answer. The number of smokers has definately dropped since the 80's. AND, most of the smokers out there are buying generics, not Marlboro. So a couple questions for those who have the resources.

1. How large was the tabaccos industry in the 80's?

2. How large is it now?

3. How large is the junk food industry today? (not sure this can be answered, given that businesses are a mixed pot today. Hostess is owned by so-and-so who used to manufacture clothing and is now into foods, etc., etc. Plus, the fact that Kraft owns just about everythings and they probably don't have (or want) "junk food" division.)

My guess is that the national profit on snack foods is way bigger than tabacco was.