A tobacco tax? Well why not some processed food as well?

Sep 30 2013 - 5:31pm

Gotta say, I'm not hating this new tobacco-tax idea.

President Barack Obama recently proposed a 94 cent per-pack increase in federal tobacco taxes. And while some folks hail it as a victory for early-childhood education, others see it as piling on just one more onerous tariff on a product that is already among the most taxed on the planet.

Here in Utah, the president's proposal puts many of us in an awkward position. Why? Well, we're overwhelmingly Mormon, AND overwhelmingly Republican.

Let's face it. On the one hand, this is basically a "sin tax." And if there's one thing we Mormon Republicans love, it's taxing the devil out of sinful things we don't partake in anyway.

But on the other hand, this great idea is being proposed by the current president. And if there's one thing we Mormon Republicans hate, it's anything proposed by Barack Obama. (Indeed, I'm pretty sure if the Obamas suddenly announced they were taking the missionary discussions, many LDS heads would quite literally explode.)

Ah, such a quandary.

There's a fair degree of research that suggests when taxes go up on something, its use goes down. And seeing as how tobacco is a leading cause of preventable death, it stands to reason the fewer smokers there are, the healthier the population will be.

Not only that, but any additional monies raised by these taxes would go to an awfully good cause: The Children. Because, as Whitney Houston and I have said countless times before, we truly do believe The Children are our future.

Which, I don't know about you, but it is precisely this thought that keeps me up nights -- knowing that, one day, we'll be turning over the country to the likes of those shiftless punks, playing mindless video games in their parents' basements.

Ah, but I digress ...

I will concede this one point: It is something of a double standard that a smoker's bad habit is taxed so heavily, while a nonsmoker's unhealthy addictions get a free ride. This is not to say we should lower taxes on tobacco, but we should crank up the taxes on various unhealthy, highly processed convenience foods.

Buy some snap peas or an orange at the grocery store? Congrats, it's tax-free. But add Pringles or one of those gallon tubs of ice cream to your shopping cart, and -- BLAMMO! You think a two-pack-a-day habit is expensive?

Seriously, are you sure you want to buy that package of Double Stuf Oreos for $24, after taxes, when you could purchase a bag of baby carrots for less than $1.50?

Oh sure, you could still eat all the junk food you want, but it's going to cost you.

Snack foods with little or no nutritional value should be treated just like tobacco. After all, think it's a coincidence that Philip Morris once purchased Kraft and R.J. Reynolds merged with Nabisco?

A few of the other 94 cent "sin taxes" that wouldn't bother me one bit:

* A Hot Pockets tax.

* A Cheetos tax.

* A Kool-Aid tax.

* A Twix tax.

* A Diet Coke tax.

* A Twinkie tax.

I'm not really sure how they'd work it all out -- perhaps you'd pay the tax based on the percentage of high-fructose corn syrup in an item, or on a per-gram-of-fat or milligram-of-sodium basis -- I'll leave the gory details to the politicians. But such a tax only seems fair.

Understandably, taxing things like ice cream and candy is going to be a hard sell here in Utah, where we do love our refined sugars. So maybe we start small, choosing some odd little confection we could all agree on.

Do they still make candy cigarettes?

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, msaal@standard.net, or follow him on Twitter at @Saalman.


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