First they came for the cigarettes …

A lot of people immediately dismiss any claims that a movement for a fat tax is gaining ground. But while it might seem outrageous to have some sort of food industry settlement a la the tobacco deal, or to tax fatty foods as much as we tax cigarettes or liquor, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Many of the same elements which allowed those other sin taxes to come about are in place for fatty foods. First and most importantly is a certain degree of socialized medicine, which buttresses many arguments for why personal decisions must be socialized as well. Without government funding of health care, there would be no argument that what you do with your own body somehow has a burdensome effect on the public at large.

Second there is the reality of the epidemic: according to the government, 36 percent of Americans are overweight and 23 percent are obese. And there is a mountain of evidence showing the relationship between obesity and all sorts of nasty things like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, etc.

The only element missing is demonization. Yes, there is glorification of thinness and demonization of the chubby or obese on television, in movies or in fashion magazines. But it’s not likely that most people see McDonald’s in the same light they see Phillip Morris. Also, most people feel that, unlike smoking, a cheeseburger, a slice of pizza, or a Krispy Kreme doughnut every now and then can’t hurt. But since nicotine is addictive and it is, of course, impossible to quit, it’s a different story.

But don’t be too sure. Too often today, health advice is only a step short of health coercion. Which is a shame, since it causes people to be even more skeptical of sound health advice and more likely to rebel against it.