We’re watching what you eat

Rich Tucker
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Posted: Aug 17, 2003 12:00 AM

It seems there’s always delicious food around -- pizza, burgers, steak -- and I’m stuck with salad and low-fat dressing. I’m sure I’m not alone in pining for a government-funded program to make losing weight easier.

Enter New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz.

He recently sponsored a bill that would establish a state program to create TV and radio ads extolling the virtues of physical activity. Also, the health department would have to provide “training” to medical professionals -- which seems strange somehow. After all, are there any medical professionals who aren’t aware that being fat is bad for you? I never went to med school, but I do know that much.

The program would also educate consumers about nutrition and attempt to coordinate the state government’s “obesity prevention strategies.” Maybe that’ll evolve into a support group for overweight Americans.
Ortiz, predictably, wants to fund his programs through higher taxes.

He’s introduced a separate bill that would slap an additional quarter-cent sales tax on food and drink products that are already taxed. In addition, according to his Web site, Ortiz would also have the state tax “the sale and rental of video and computer games, and video game equipment; and, the sale and rental of video and DVD movies.” Plus he wants a 1 percent sales tax on movie tickets.

 Now, it’s one thing to introduce an additional tax on snacks and sweets. People enjoy these foods, but realize they’re unhealthy. So it’s sort of like taxing cigarettes. If you want to play, you’ll have to pay. But it’s a slippery slope -- taxing one type of product that’s clearly dangerous can easily lead to taxing a completely safe product.

Ortiz wants to tax movies? Presumably because some of the people who go to these movies are overweight? That’s like taxing all of us, because we might accidentally breathe second-hand smoke while walking on the sidewalk. And in fact Ortiz does compare eating and smoking. “We [lawmakers] have focused on smoking; now it is about time we fight obesity,” he told The Washington Post.

Of course, that ignores a very obvious difference: People don’t have to smoke, but we do have to eat. You can (and should) live for many years without inhaling a cigarette, but you won’t last more than a few weeks without food.

But you may have to in Ortiz’s hometown of New York City. Or at least, you may have to live without restaurant food. A draconian bill earlier this year banned smoking in any restaurant. That measure has already taken a bite out of the restaurant business. Maybe Ortiz’s additional taxes can finish the job of running the city’s famous eateries out of business.

Unfortunately, this movement isn’t limited to New York. The Washington Post reports that state legislators around the country have filed more than 140 bills targeting obesity so far this year. Most are fairly innocent, simply naming commissions to study the problem or calling for more physical education in schools.
But with New York’s liberal lawmakers leading the way toward higher taxes and useless programs, rest assured the rest of the states will catch up soon enough. This is simply too tasty an issue for lawmakers to pass up.

If all this talk of fat and taxes (are either avoidable, really?) is stressing you out, here’s an idea: Move to Denver. Voters there will have a chance to reduce their stress this November. As USA Today reported, “A measure on Denver’s ballot would order city government to ‘ensure public safety’ by adopting and promoting ‘stress-reducing techniques or programs.’” The man who wrote the measure, activist Jeff Peckman, suggests those techniques could include music in public places and better nutrition in school lunches.

This is just another symptom of the expansion of the “nanny state,” where governments will do everything for us, so we won’t have to waste time thinking for ourselves. Do you smoke? Well, that can’t be your fault. The tobacco companies are to blame. Sue ’em. After all, your state already has, and walked off with a fat settlement. You’re fat? Well, it can’t be that you eat too much and exercise too little. Maybe another government program can show you the errors of your ways.

Think about it: Pretty soon, our tax dollars could be stamping out people’s cigarettes and warning people they’re fat, all while telling people to calm down. I feel better already!