Smokers and the obese face penalties under Affordable Care Act

As more details about the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare" as some are calling it, come to light, some interesting and potentially controversial items are making headlines.

The latest revelations...smokers and the obese may face stiff penalties under the new law.

Last week, the Associated Press warned ominously that starting in January of 2014, â??Millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance because of tobacco penalties in President Barack Obamaâ??s health-care law.â??

For insurance companies that opt to enforce the full amount, the change could mean as much as a $5,000 premium spike per year for older smokers.

Those who are clinically obese could face penalties as well.

Cornell health economist John Cawley tells the AP, â??If Iâ??m obese, the health-care costs are not totally borne by me. Theyâ??re borne by other people in my health insurance plan and â?? when Iâ??m older â?? by Medicare.â?? The American Journal of Preventive Medicine estimates that obesity alone will cost this country $549.5 billion between now and 2030 â?? and it kills 300,000 individuals annually.

And as the Associated Press pointed out...attempts to curb smoking and unhealthy eating frequently lead to backlash. Like the current legal tussle over New York City's first-of-its-kind limits on the size of sugary beverages and the vicious fight last year in California over a ballot proposal to add a $1-per-pack cigarette tax, which was ultimately defeated.

"This is my life. I should be able to do what I want," said Sebastian Lopez, a college student from Queens, speaking last September when the New York City Board of Health approved the soda size rules.

Critics also contend that tobacco- and calorie-control measures place a disproportionately heavy burden on poor people.

Critics call these approaches unfair, and believe they have only a marginal effect. "Ultimately these things are weak tea," said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a physician and fellow at the right-of-center think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.

It raises the question...why not let smokers smoke...and eaters eat?

"Your freedom is likely to be someone else's harm," said Daniel Callahan, senior research scholar at a bioethics think-tank, the Hastings Center.

Is penalizing smokers and the obese with higher costs under the Affordable Care Act a good move? Or another swipe at personal freedom?