Why not tax trans fats?

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Last week, Montgomery County, Md., joined New York and Philadelphia in banning partially hydrogenated oils in restaurants. Washington Post columnist/blogger Marc Fisher decried this development:

It’s fairly clear that trans fats are bad for you. And lots of food businesses are reacting to the widespread public opposition to trans fats by working on new recipes that eliminate or drastically reduce use of those oils. But a ban on trans fats–very much like the smoking ban, which utterly ignores the fact that the marketplace is effectively reducing smoking in public gathering spots as well as smoking behavior overall–elbows the natural forces of the marketplace out of the way. The result of the government fiat will be less satisfied customers, widespread hysteria, and a growing belief that only the Nanny State can protect us from ourselves.

I guess I agree with him on the ban. But if there’s evidence that our nation’s heavy use of trans fats is costing us on health care or even worker productivity, it seems like it would certainly make sense to pile a tax upon the stuff. Maybe not at the county level–that would probably be unworkable. But nationally, why the heck not?

Imposing taxes on things we want people to use less of is the most economically sound, liberty-friendly way of affecting human behavior. Yet we in the United States seem mostly allergic to this approach. Why is that?

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