Taxing sin is nothing new – anyone who buys cigarettes, alcohol, or even gambles can tell you that. In recent years, the traditional sin taxes have begun to expand, with suggestions to begin taxing things like high-sugar sodas. So when Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (more commonly known as health care reform), it wasn’t terribly surprising that it included a tax on tanning:

There is hereby imposed on any indoor tanning service a tax equal to 10 percent of the amount paid for such service (determined without regard to this section), whether paid by insurance or otherwise.

Pub. L. 111-148 Sec. 10907. The 10% tax on indoor tanning, which went into the bill after the cosmetic surgery lobby successfully defeated the inclusion of the botax, took effect on July 1, 2010, and didn’t generate a lot of media coverage.

That is, until Snooki got involved. Snooki, as you probably know unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past year, is the inexplicable nickname of Nicole Polizzi, who rose to fame on MTV’s Jersey Shore. In last night’s Season 2 premier, Snooki had some harsh words for President Obama on the tanning tax:

I don’t go tanning tanning anymore because Obama put a 10% tax on tanning–but I feel like he did that intentionally for us. McCain would never put a 10% tax on tanning–because he’s pale and he’d probably want to be tan.

Snooki’s egocentricity aside, let’s set a few things straight. First, the wrangling over the tanning tax versus the sin tax happened in the Senate, and had very little to do with President Obama. Second, although McCain never misses an opportunity to score political points while looking stupid, he probably won’t be tanning any time soon, because of that pesky melanoma bout he had in 2000.

But vapid as Snooki’s comments may have been, they do touch on a slightly more legitimate debate over whether the tanning tax is racially discriminatory. After all, the people who go tanning tend to be the pale ones, and the pale ones tend to be white. So let’s talk about that: is there any legal recourse for the pale crowd against Congress or President Obama over the tanning tax?

Probably not. In order to make out a case against that a law is discriminatory under the 14th Amendment, one must prove not only that it has disparate effects across racial lines, but also that the lawmaker intended to cause such effects. And that is nearly impossible to prove, especially when you’re dealing with the inside politics of the Senate. Sorry Snooki, it looks like you’re going to have to pony up 10% more, or try tanning the old-fashioned way.

Kevin Lumpkin

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