Opinion » Bill Cope

Pop Goes Weasel

FYI: Mountain Dew is not an essential food group

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Eleanor Swigby / Waddles around with a Big Gulp in hand/ Can't put it down. / Eleanor Swigby / slurps up more Coke than a body can stand / She's 8 feet around. / Oh the lardy people / where dooooo they all come from? / Oh the lardy people / How dooooo they wipe their bum?

--With profound apologies to J. Lennon and P. McCartney

And I apologize to you too, kind reader, for my insensitivity. That was just plain mean, wasn't it? Especially coming from a guy who could drop 50 pounds, himself, and still have plenty left over to fill out his sweat pants.

But I couldn't help myself. I was driven to do it. Compelled, you might say. The awful urge hit me while I was watching that ad from the advocacy group Americans Against Food Taxes. I bet you've seen it. There's this concerned mommy unloading groceries from her hatchback with the help of a couple of obliging teenagers, and while she's doing it, she's speaking oh-so-earnestly into the camera about how tough times are and how every penny counts when she's trying to feed her family and how we should all notify our representatives immediately and insist that they should definitely, absolutely, positively not impose any tax on soda pop because she's already struggling to make ends meet.

Now, far be it from me to suggest that if her household budget is so threatened by a modest tax on soda pop, maybe she should consider not buying soda pop. But I will mention that Mom is in pretty trim shape, which we would expect. After all, they are hardly going to use a Rosie-sized actress, are they? Not to make the case that the American family's access to unlimited high fructose corn syrup should never be restricted by the imposition of a few cents of tax on the gallon.

And her youngsters are looking good, too--by which I mean they're not the kind of kids who develop persistent rashes on their inner thighs from the constant rubbing. No ma'am, you would never see those kind of kids in an ad from Americans Against Food Taxes, and considering that the Americans Against Food Taxes is a wholly fabricated lobbying body funded by the American Beverage Association, you're unlikely to hear the phrase "childhood obesity" either.

The point of it all is, of course, to squelch any attempt by this Congress to load a new tax on the backs of already beleaguered citizens who want nothing more than to slake their thirsts with a refreshing Sierra Mist, Dr. Pepper or the recommended serving size of Red Bull. We are meant to understand this is simply another case of a beneficent industrial association looking out for the best interests of regular folks, that's all this is. Sure. A grand gesture by the providers of good, good stuff, to promote the well-being of me and you and all those overly Rubenesque neighbors we end up behind at Jackson store counters, praying to God the butt seams in their trousers don't split until they're out of range.

So that's the story. I was so impressed by what these thoughtful corporate soft drink providers have already done for us that I sat down and reimagined one of my favorite Beatles tunes in tribute to their work. It may seem hurtful and cruel to some, the way I rewrote the lyrics. But look at it this way: I have done nowheres near the damage to my fellow lard-asses than has already been done by the pushers in the sugary liquids biz.

I admit to being somewhat resentful on this matter. After decades of watching the price of my vice of choice climb higher and higher, mostly because of taxes that even the most conservative prudes don't mind imposing, I have become perhaps a tad bitter that we smokers get tapped for our particular poison while our diabetic, heart disease-ridden, triple X-wearing friends get off scot-free for theirs.

I have no argument with the concept of people paying a bit more to offset the expense they will end up costing society in the long run. But there is already a 57-cent tax on every pack of smokes sold in Idaho. Beer gets hit for 15 cents a gallon while you're paying 45 cents on every gallon of wine you go through. Yet the American Beverage Association (and lobby-minded friends) want nothing to do with the few pennies that have been proposed for soft drinks.

But this isn't just about me wanting some payback. Ultimately, this is about a health-care system coming apart like a Chippendale chair under the weight of a 400 pounder. It's about every industry with a finger in the health-care soup fighting like Cossacks for their own interests, and no one else's. Big Insurance, Big Pharma and now Big Pop ... none of them want a thing to change. Neither America's health or America's future are their concern, not if it might shave a few points off their profit margin.

I don't seriously believe a relatively small tax--6 to 10 cents has been proposed--will stop many of our Swigbys from swimming daily in their sugar water. But that tax is projected to bring in almost $15 billion a year, all dedicated to health care, and that may be the best, and cheapest, insurance many of them will ever have.

So here's my message to our representatives in Congress, inspired by the Americans Against Food Taxes' PR campaign: Tax that crap! All that crap! And don't stop at the liquid crap. If the solid crap--Froot Loops and cheese puffs leap to mind--has no nutritional value whatsoever, it has no right to call itself "food!"