New Jersey adopted a “vanity tax” in 2004, levied on “any medical procedure performed on [an] individual which is directed at improving [his/her] appearance and which does not meaningfully promote the proper function of the body or prevent or treat illness or disease.” In a critique of the tax, Michael Duel argues that it is sexist and such surgery is frequently nondiscretionary:
Women can either feel inferior, enjoy a lower quality of life, and be rejected by mainstream society, or else suffer the pain and toil of cosmetic surgery to achieve the exact same ideals society uses to reject them.
Cosmetic surgeons have also railed against the tax, unctuously declaiming that it “discriminates against women” because they buy about 86% of the procedures.
NOW President Kim Gandy has a nice response to that canard:
In general, I’m opposed to most things that impact women disproportionately, but disproportionate use isn’t a good measure if a tax is unfair or not. I can’t imagine someone arguing against having a luxury tax on yachts because more of them are bought by men.
State Senator Karen Keiser is uppping the redistributive ante in Washington state, with a plan to earmark vanity tax revenue for health insurance for poor children. As one tax policy analyst claims, “In this anti-tax climate, these user-based, selective tax proposals are more palatable than broader ones.”
Duel also attacks the vanity tax as a matter of tax policy, but I have a feeling he misses its point. . .