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Verner column: Sin tax? How about a sin subsidy?

Leave it to the government to do the wrong thing at precisely the worst possible time.
The headlines are so dire, it’s surely a sign the Apocalypse is upon us. Unemployment figures are going through the roof while corporate earnings molder in the cellar. Consumer confidence is at Dr. Kervorkian levels. The Big Three are rapidly dwindling to the Tiny Two … or One. Internationally, we’ve mortgaged our future to China, and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il ó the Dr. Strangelove of our day ó is threatening to play hard ball with his ballistic missiles.
It’s enough to make a Mormon missionary chug Jack Daniels while chain-smoking Marlboros. So what do our elected leaders do to soothe our frazzled nerves and help us make it through the night? Through the wonders of selective taxation, they’re making it more expensive to smoke and drink.
Brilliant timing, is it not? When the killer bees finally attack (and you know it must be near), the government’s response will be to quadruple the tax on Benadryl. During our next flu outbreak, look for Gov. Bev Perdue to impose a “sin tax” on chicken soup.
Rather than use this nerve-wracking era as an excuse to gouge us further on suds and cigarettes, the government should be distributing vouchers for Bud and Winston-Salems. While I’ve no illusions about personally benefiting from a bailout, I’d like to think a government-sponsored “beerout” is not beyond the realm of possibility. Personally, I think any time unemployment rises past 10 percent, the daily news should be delivered with a six-pack and a carton of smokes. On some days, throw in a prescription for Xanax. Even if this doesn’t boost circulation, it would at least mellow out some of the “mainstream media” Jeremiahs. It’s hard to speak ill of an institution when it’s supporting America’s most cherished vices.
I know, I know ó smoking and drinking can be bad for your health, bad for a culture sliding ever more deeply into depravation and decay, bad for the kiddies who are reading newspaper editorial pages when they should be ossifying their brains with YouTube and Grand Theft Auto. Let’s move beyond the hypocrisy and try a little adult candor here. For those of us who have trouble visualizing world peace or synchronizing our personal energy fields with the pulse of the cosmos, smoking and drinking can help take the edge off tense situations. They can help us relax and regroup.
We know this is true because of all those great old Western movies in which, after shooting down the black-hatted gunslinger who’s been terrorizing the gentle townfolk, Gary Cooper steps up to the bar and knocks back a glass of whiskey. Or if it’s a great war movie, after single-handedly wiping out a machine-gun nest, Gary Cooper cups a match in his trembling hands and lights up an unfiltered Lucky Strike. (I suppose in the modern remake, after dispatching the gunslingers and machine-gunners, Gary Cooper would go for a jog or relax via colonic irrigation.)
Yes, as coping mechanism and comfort indulgence, yoga and low-fat yogurt are infinitely superior to Stroh’s and Virginia Slims. We should all be huffing at the gym, not puffing and guzzling at home. But the cold reality ó hold on while I pop the top here ó is that some of us just aren’t made that way, and this is not the best time to suggest we reform. (I fervently pray that President O’bama isn’t trying to stop smoking right now. What with the wretched state of things and his mother-in-law living in the guest room, he doesn’t need any additional stress. When a guy has access to the launch codes, you don’t want him suddenly jonesing for a nicotine fix.)
So here’s what I propose. Instead of a sin tax, let’s move to a sin subsidy. You know how economists have devised various indices to gauge consumer confidence, commodity prices, inflation and various other factors? We need an “anxiety index” ó comparable, perhaps, to President Carter’s “misery index” but with a more uplifting purpose. Here’s how it would work. We add up the jobless rate, the foreclosure rate, the inflation rate, the medically uninsured rate, the dropout rate and divide by the closing level of the Dow. That gives us our overall anxiety index.
For every 10 percent increase in the anxiety index, the government will impose a 10 percent decrease in the price of beer, wine, liquor and cigarettes. Any time the government announces a new bailout plan for a failing industry, the “anxiety index” price break automatically doubles. If the president shows up on “The Tonight Show,” drinks and cigarettes are on the house.
And to help ease the angst for all of you teetotalers and nonsmokers, we’ll extend the sin subsidy to granola bars and chocolate. But as for the colonic irrigation, I’m afraid you’re on your own.
– – –
Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post.

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