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Give the ax to the ‘Botox tax’

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Robyn Blumner
December 14, 2009

My timing in life tends to be off.


I was ready to buy my first home in the 1980s, when mortgage interest rates were at record double digits. I graduated from law school and went into public-interest law just before my pricey alma mater instituted a student loan forgiveness program for those who sacrificed big paychecks for public service.


About the only time I skirted under the wire to my benefit was by turning 18 a few years before the drinking age was raised. I have to admit, that was a nice perk of reaching the age of majority. Sorry to those who came after me on that.


Now it’s happening again. Just as I hit the age when Botox is a major topic of conversation over after-work cosmos, and plastic surgeons’ names are passed around like restaurant recommendations, the federal government is proposing a tax on the fountain of youth.


One of the ways Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to pay for health care reform is with a 5 percent excise tax on elective cosmetic surgery and procedures such as Botox, which is why it has been dubbed the “Botox tax.”


Now, I’m not opposed to finding ways to pay for health care reform even if it has to come out of my pocket, but this is picking on women who are just trying to stay in the game. It equates nipping and tucking with tippling and smoking and other socially discouraged behaviors on which the government imposes its sin taxes.


Sure, who cares if wealthy socialites have to dig a little deeper into their Lana Marks purses to indulge their vanity? But finding ways to retain some semblance of a youthful appearance is an act of job security for everyday working women.


Today’s ambitious woman in Corporate America is surrounded by distinguished-looking graying males at executive levels, while her female cohorts maintain vigilant root patrol, keeping their colorists on speed dial. As someone who is not me cleverly wrote, gray hair is not a tress-for-success for women.


Granted, cosmetic surgery is a step beyond hair dye, though it’s worth remembering that in the 1950s, only 7 percent of women dyed their hair. Now, nearly 65 percent do, according to a Procter & Gamble survey. Welcome to the new baseline: Those who go au naturel are the outliers. Going under the knife or using injected product to smooth out lines and wrinkles is just the next step in keeping a competitive edge. The workplace’s gray ceiling inches closer every year, and we fight it with available illusions.


Women, and not just rich ones, are largely who will pay this tax, which is expected to raise a measly $6 billion over 10 years—not much of a dent in a health care reform package costing $848 billion. Women make up 86 percent of cosmetic surgery and procedure patients, and 60 percent of them have household incomes of between $30,000 and $90,000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.


Still, I’d be OK with the Botox tax if there were a fair trade-off. How about adding a 5 percent excise tax for health care reform on every professional sports ticket sold, with an extra surcharge on luxury boxes? The guys sitting in those seats (and some women, certainly) are sideline spectators, drinking beer and eating junk food. Nothing healthy about it. Quite indulgent, actually. Tax-pain parity, anyone?


My faith lies with Nancy Pelosi—the chestnut-haired, smooth-complexioned, coming-up-on-70-years-old House speaker from San Francisco. She didn’t include the Botox tax in the House version of health care reform. Her friends would kill her.


I’m convinced that if the Senate passes Reid’s version, whether the tax survives the conference process will depend on how many women lawmakers are on the committee.


With the exception of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, who clearly runs from any product with “rejuvenating” on the label. Though even she at 62 has jet-black hair. Hmm, there’s hope yet.


Robyn Blumner is a civil liberties and labor law expert who writes about individual freedom, trade, globalization and workers’ rights. She is a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times in St. Petersburg, Fla., and syndicated by Tribune Media Services. E-mail her at blumner@sptimes.com.

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