Who'd tax obesity?

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2003

I write in regard to Timothy Inklebarger's report in the Aug. 12 Empire on the ordinance to double local tobacco taxes.

Matt Felix, executive director for NCADD in Juneau, testified to the Assembly that increasing the tax would decrease smoking among teenagers and those on a fixed income, and that it would help cover the cost of increased health problems associated with smoking. Felix said: "In a sense, this is what you would call a true user fee, not a tax. If you smoke, you pay the tax. If you don't smoke, you don't pay it. ... The people who smoke a lot are usually the ones who contract the costs associated with smoking, so in essence it's sort of like paying for the inevitable health costs it creates. If ever there was a fair tax, this is a tax that is fair."

Let's substitute the word "eat" for "smoke" in Mr. Felix's statement and see how that resonates with the public per a Hartford Courant article published Saturday on obesity:

"Roland Sturm, RAND Corporation economist, found that obesity adds an average of $395 per patient per year to health care costs, more than smoking ($230) or heavy drinking ($150). Obesity and overweight account for $93 billion a year in U.S. spending on medical care. Former Surgeon General David Satcher found that overweight and obesity nearly doubled among children and adolescents since 1980."

I doubt any elected body will impose or increase taxes on obese people or food to cover the inevitable health costs obesity causes. Politicians wouldn't touch that with the proverbial 10-foot pole. The higher tax will not cause this fixed-income smoker to quit smoking. It may cause me to decrease other discretionary spending, if necessary. I also doubt it would result in significant reduction in teen smoking. If anyone thinks teens don't have disposable income just look at all the commercial advertising targeting that age group.

Tax increases on tobacco and alcohol are nothing more than a convenient money grab from a minority of the voting public. After all, Mayor Smith is quoted as saying:

"I don't know what direction the Assembly will take, but I would guess that they are going to go that direction. One reason is because there wasn't enough money this year to fund the social services program fully."

Anti-smoking advertisements are the most effective way to reduce smoking, and that is what existing tobacco taxes and tobacco companies' settlement money should be used for.

Pete Rogers


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