There’s a place in New Brunswick that serves up a hot dog known as the “crackler.” A strip of bacon is wrapped around the dog like an armature, and the dog and bacon are deep fried. I used to frequent that place — Tido ‘n His Junkyard Dogs — before the Gannett Co. discovered that I was of no further use and I had to find work in another neighborhood. I thought to myself at first that it might be easier to forego the cracker and simply put a loaded revolver to my head, but my watering palate got the best of me, and indulged myself from time to time. I suppose one could make the argument that I was putting my family’s future at risk by abusing my arteries in that manner, but I was, after all, accepted “for better or for worse,” and if this was as bad as “worse” got, perhaps it wasn’t a bad bargain for anyone concerned.

I have often wondered, standing in a checkout line while some bloke at the front asks the clerk for an eight-dollar pack of cigarettes from the vault, whether I would still lay down that much money if I had been a smoker. I have never been a smoker, so I have never had to confront that dilemma, but it seems as if New York Times columnist Mark Bittman would like to come at me from a different direction.

Bittman wrote this week that the federal government should heavily tax unhealthy foods so as to discourage people like me from becoming a drain on the health care system.

This is the approach that has already been taken with cigarettes, which the feds and the states have gleefully taxed and taxed again, boasting that they’re only looking out for people who can’t look out for themselves, whereas what they’re really doing is compensating for their own inability to control government spending by making scapegoats of people engaged in an unpopular but legal activity. The last I heard, beer wasn’t a healthy drink. Why don’t governments tax the hell out of that? I think you know why.

Bittman isn’t in government, and I don’t suspect him of such a cynical motive — although he does mention the potential for billions in tax revenues from consumers of donuts and Pepsi. I think he means well, and in a way that’s almost worse. Government can do whatever it wants in the way of public education — things such as Mayor Bloomberg’s calorie-posting requirement — but slapping what amounts to a financial penalty on people exercising their freedom to eat what they choose, which is perfectly legal, is too much government in private life.

You can read Mark Bittman’s column by clicking HERE.

Got a light?

March 29, 2009

funny-no-smoking-signThe federal government’s April Fool’s joke on smokers will be the largest increase ever in the tax on tobacco. As of Wednesday, the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes will go from 39 cents to $1.01. There will be comparable increases in the tax on other tobacco products. Not that they’re a cynical lot, but cigarette manufacturers, anticipating that this tax increase will have a negative impact on sales, raised prices a few weeks ago to make up for their expected losses. This is all for a good cause. The government’s object is to raise $33.5 billion over 4 1/2 years to finance an expansion of health insurance for children. Those who campaign to discourage smoking hope this tax increase, particularly in the midst of a recession, will inspire some people to reassess their priorities and give up the habit.

The connection between smoking and health insurance for children may seem obvious, but it is in fact selective. There are plenty of things that are potentially damaging to children’s health – carbon emissions and some fast food, for example – that the government could tax more heavily to finance the insurance program. Tobacco is the most convenient target, because the nation’s significant shift away from smoking has given smokers the aura of lepers; no one will come to their defense. This is hypocritical, because the same government that depends on tobacco as a safe source of revenue, the same government that makes manufacturers warn their customers that the product might be lethal, the same government that bars cigarette advertising from radio and television, in effect sanctions the sale and consumption of tobacco products by not prohibiting them by law. Smoking is a legal activity, but government would rather impose what amounts to a punitive tax on folks who smoke – which doesn’t include me – than make a serious effort to finance health insurance and other necessary programs by eliminating chronic waste in the federal budget.