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Tantax? Healthcare reform socks it to tanning enthusiasts

The Senate had originally planned to levy a 5% tax on elective cosmetic surgery procedures as part of a plan to pay for expanded health care.

But after intense lobbying from the America Medical Association, that proposal was scrapped in favor of a 10% tax on indoor tanning. The tanning tax is expected to net $2.7 billion over the next decade -- less than half of what the "Botax" was expected to raise.

Among the arguments put forth by critics of the Botax proposal? Since 85-90% of elective cosmetic surgery patients are women, a Botax would be discriminatory, an argument backed by the American Medical Association and the National Organization for Women, which opposes the Botax proposal.

But that looks like a frivolous argument: any tax on a specific product or service targets some groups and not others. Taxes on alcohol, it could be argued, unfairly target people who aren't Mormon. A tanning tax targets people who frequent tanning salons: A 2004 study conducted by Simmons found that the 89.9% of sunless tanners are women -- 95.5% are white, 41.7% live in the south, and 24.4% fall between the ages of 25 and 34.

Most of the arguments that can be made against a tax on cosmetic surgery can also be applied to sunless tanning.

"It is not surprising that one primarily cosmetic business is trying to throw another under the bus by transferring a tax from rich doctors and their wealthy customers to struggling small businesses," said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association, in a statement. "The irony is that ultraviolet light at least has proven health benefits, where botox treatments have none."

And in the absence of any evidence suggesting that indoor tanning is more harmful than outdoor tanning, the tantax may not even go far enough: let's impose a tax on people who go to the beach or, better yet, stand outside for a few minutes per day.

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