Monday, October 5, 2009

#67 Should There Be an Extra Tax on Soft Drinks?

We know there's an obesity epidemic in the United States. We also know Americans make poor food choices and have begun to think that super sized meals are the norm. Recently, in The New England Journal of Medicine, an article was written where the authors recommended a way to help with obesity as well as a way to help with the cost of healthcare. They say: tax soft drinks and sugary drinks. As I see it, this "argument" could go three ways. First, the tax may deter people if the cost of soda truly becomes unaffordable. Second, the billions of dollars raised by this tax could help offset the burden obesity puts on the healthcare system. And third, it could totally backfire. Truthfully though, I'm not sure how I feel about this. It's the old punish bad behavior vs promoting good behavior. How about helping to reduce obesity while promoting wellness? Instead of taxing "bad", why not subsidize good - like fruits and veggies?

Is too much intervention good? I mean, of the government kind. Once upon a time there was prohibition -- Bad. Next came the cigarette tax -- Good. Ironically, just a few weeks ago, I had a mini debate where I argued on the side of government intervention. My "opponent" was saying that we [the US] are so 1984 -- you know, big brotherish. I told him that I was ok with public space spying [cameras on the interior and exterior of buildings, etc], especially if it deterred and/or solved crimes. Lets just say that he let me know, in not such a nice way, that he didn't agree with me. Well, now here I am thinking that maybe taxing soft drinks has gone just a little too far. Could we possibly next see an increased tax on items with hydrogenated oils? Trans fat? Too much sugar? Of course, the piggy-who-can't-control-herself-part-of-me sort of wishes that this would happen [with chocolate products only], but the grown-up who should be in control of her food and life thinks, WE the consumer, must take responsibility. Plus, I think the tax would have to be very, very, very high to make the price of soft drinks exorbitant to its "users". If caffeine is as addictive as nicotine, and people are willing to pay $5.00+ per pack of cigarettes, well even I can do that kind of of math...

Quote of the Day: "There is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip" Richard Harris

4 comments:

deniser shardlow said...

Bobbie, love the dialogue... need to put my two cents in:
Personal responsibility aside, our unhealthy diet was encouraged by government subsidized,cheap corn based foods flooding the market place.
Here are quotes from a recent article by Anthony B. Bradley
“An American diet heavily dependent on corn and corn-derivatives is linked to obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, Type II-Diabetes, constipation, joint pain, and other ailments. The tragic irony is that government subsidizes the low-cost production of the corn-based, unhealthy foods that make many people sick... According to the Environmental Workers Group, corn subsidies in the United States totaled $56.2 billion from 1995-2006. This government intervention has encouraged the widespread use of corn syrup as a sweetener in many manufactured foods. Yet many of the unhealthiest foods are those with the highest levels of high-fructose corn syrup. In effect, government subsidies have made unhealthy foods extremely cheap to produce. Corn syrup is now found in an unbelievable number of products ranging from salad dressing to hot dogs...
We cannot be good stewards of our bodies or nature if we do not have accurate information. Prices help to convey that information. For example, what would happen if the market determined actual corn prices? Not subsidizing corn would cause a needed price correction. Perhaps our hamburger value-meals would adjust in price creating disincentives to eat fast-food. Without corn and other agricultural subsidies, maybe the price of meat would adjust to a point encouraging different choices benefiting us all in the long-run. Maybe, for example, eating a 72-once steak at the Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo, Texas would be too expensive to consider... While individuals are ultimately responsible to exercise good stewardship in choosing what and how much to eat, incentives can be distorted by government meddling in the market.”
http://catholicexchange.com/2009/09/04/121591/

Michael Rivers said...

Diet Coke is one of my favorite drinks. I drink it almost all day at work. I'm not sure how high of a tax there would have to be for me to not drink as much of it.

justjuliebean said...

I agree with deniser, we subsidize so much of this cheap unhealthy food. I don't have a problem with taxing soft drinks, as I never drink them, think they're a waste of plastic and chemicals and have no nutritional value at all.

Jeve (aka John and Steve) said...

You are so on the money with this. I actually think that taxing more just makes addicts broke. Rewarding for good behavior is more progressive!