Don’t Tax My Dew, Dude!

Noooooooooo!!!! This can’t be happening! Is nothing sacred?!

Now some state & local governments want to take it upon themselves to, in effect, punish you for consuming something unhealthy by adding an extra tax onto things like soda, candy, and other sugary foods. Maybe even pizza! Cigarette smokers must be either crying or laughing their butts off. (Get it? Cigarettes… butts… Hah!) Of course, it’s pretty hard to convince people that soda & junk food are in the same league as cigarettes, as far as health risks go. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more of these sorts of proposals, considering the First Lady’s efforts to bring attention to obesity in children. This is, in it’s own way, another form of Obamacare. (Though, in case you’re wondering, there is no such tax in the current Senate & House bills.) And, yes, it is mostly Democrats proposing these “sugar taxes”, but there are a few moderate Republicans, too.

Mountain Dew on ice

Mountain Dew on ice

It all started, as far as I can tell, in Dec. 2008 when New York’s Governor David Paterson proposed an 18% surcharge on soda and other sugary drinks. (Actually, he proposed a LOT of taxes, but we won’t get into them here.) The “soda tax” was supposed to raise $404 million in 2009-2010 and $539 million in 2010-2011. How does that work, exactly, when the tax is supposed to be discouraging the purchase of these nasty drinks? Anyway, a combination of pressure from the beverage industry and public outcry from New Yorkers killed it.

In Jan. 2009, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed a 5% premium on soda and other sugar-loaded snacks. The idea was to discourage people from buying “empty calorie” foods, while raising a projected $43.5 million in revenues to go toward “public health services, including community health centers, dental care, and violence prevention.” But, as far as changing people’s eating/drinking habits, studies concluded that such a small tax was “really too low to significantly affect obesity.”

In May 2009, the U.S. Senate was casting about, looking for ways to pay for the President’s universal health care plan, and someone suggested a 3-cent surcharge on soft drinks (not diet, though), energy & sports drinks. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated it would generate $24 billion over a 4-year period. While a nice chunk of change, this would be only a tiny fraction of the cost of Obamacare. Resistance was again raised by industry and public groups. Not surprisingly, President Obama said he thought the idea was worth exploring and hinted that the benefits might outweigh any accusations of Big Brother control. [Note: A subsequent soda tax proposal in the House Ways and Means Committee was voted down.]

Jump forward to just last month, February 2010, and California got in the game. State senator Dean Florez introduced a bill to put “a 1-cent levy on every teaspoon of added sugar and other caloric sweeteners in commercial beverages sold.” Of course, it would be paid by the companies that make and distribute the drinks. But, does anyone think the added costs to Coke, PepsiCo, etc., won’t filter down into the retail price to the consumer? Estimates are for as much as $1.5 billion a year being raised to pay for childhood obesity prevention programs, parks and recreation.

Fun fact: California introduced the first snack tax in 1991. Its odd wording made it seem to apply to doughnut “holes” but not whole doughnuts, salted crackers but not unsalted. It was repealed in 1992.

Just a few days ago, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, PA, proposed, among other revenue-raising ideas, an additional tax of 2 cents per ounce on sugary drinks — excluding diet soda, but including others like chocolate milk. Do the math! It is obvious that the $77 million in estimated annual revenues is desired to put a big dent in the $150 million budget gap. But the mayor plans on selling the soda tax as part of a larger “anti-obesity strategy” called the “Healthy Philadelphia Initiative”. The American Beverage Association’s Susan Neely stated, “At a time when Philadelphians are struggling through a tough economy with double-digit unemployment rates, this tax will threaten 2,000 well-paying beverage industry jobs in the Philadelphia area, and its impact will reach beyond the beverage aisle, hurting Philadelphia grocers by driving sales outside the city limits.”

Pepperoni Pizza

Pepperoni Pizza -- awesome!

According to a study just published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine,

“While such policies will not solve the obesity epidemic in its entirety and may face considerable opposition from food manufacturers and sellers, they could prove an important strategy to address over-consumption, help reduce energy intake and potentially aid in weight loss and reduced rates of diabetes among U.S. adults.” The researchers touted the benefits of an 18% tax on soda and pizza, saying “Our findings suggest that national, state or local policies to alter the price of less healthful foods and beverages may be one possible mechanism for steering U.S. adults toward a more healthful diet.”

The American Heart Association supports this taxation approach, as does the Obama-appointed director of the CDC.

Ironically, on the same day MSNBC reported the AIM research, they put out another article discussing

“More and more research is indicating that America’s obesity crisis can’t be blamed entirely on too much fast food and too little exercise…. A third factor may be in play: a class of natural and synthetic chemicals known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), or as researchers have begun to call them, obesogens…. [M]any researchers believe they lead to weight gain and, in turn, numerous diseases that curse the American populace. They enter our bodies from a variety of sources — natural hormones found in soy products, hormones administered to animals, plastics in some food and drink packaging, ingredients added to processed foods, and pesticides sprayed on produce.”

Back in New York, the New York Times took note of NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s renewed push for a statewide “penny-per-ounce tax on soda to stave off major service cuts to education and health care.” That’s right. Gov. Paterson has decided to try again, and his buddy Bloomberg is helping to push it.

“Bloomberg noted research suggesting that such a tax would reduce consumption of the sugary drinks, driving down obesity rates and the accompanying medical costs. Yet his main thrust was on finding a quick source of revenue for a city in serious need of one.”

It is interesting that, when Gov. Paterson’s similar proposal failed last year, Bloomberg said the idea was “just not one that we’re going to be pursuing.” The state health commissioner pointed out that the difference with this new tax is that it would be the soda producers who get hit with the tax [See my earlier comments about trickle-down taxes.], and the estimated $1 billion/year that is raised will go towards health care, rather than to the general fund. It would also benefit education, reminds Bloomberg. As per Reuters, “Paterson did not dismiss eventually imposing a tax on other obesity-linked foods such as hamburgers and chocolate bars.” Said Paterson, “Someone has got to contribute to the $7.6 billion the state spends every year to treat diseases from obesity.”

Candy bars

Candy bars, yummmm!

Objections by those in affected industries include this by Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association,

“Singling out certain foods or beverages for government penalization through tax policies will only serve to further confuse consumers, raise grocery prices at checkout, and will not lead to meaningful results in assisting Americans to adopt healthier lifestyles.”

Susan Neely made the similar point that, “Taxes are not going to teach our children how to have a healthy lifestyle.”

For its part, the soft drink industry recently announced that it would be making huge reductions in the amount of sugar-laden drinks sold to U.S. schools. The American Beverage Association is also working with the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign and pledged to “prominently display nutrition information on drink containers and vending machines.”

Most recently, Kansas decided to join in. Kansan legislators are looking for ways to eliminate a projected budget shortage. A proposed soda tax — 1 cent per teaspoon of sugar — will raise an estimated $90 million during the next fiscal year. Of course, the gap they’re trying to fill is closer to $467 million, so they are looking to raise a lot more taxes (e.g., alcohol, cigarettes & tobacco, and regular sales).

OK, enough. (Though, there are more examples.)

You may be thinking, “Sounds good! What’s the big deal? If it’ll help people to eat healthier plus provide funding for health care programs and the like, where’s the harm?!” And, at least at first blush, I would agree. I am certainly sympathetic to the medical (and psychological) dangers of obesity. Heightened risk of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, etc. All bad — though the actual links between added sugars and these conditions are often much more ambiguous than the media/Left would lead one to believe. (See here, for example.) And I admit that I could stand to cut back on the soda and sweets in my own diet. (Chocolate has its nutritional merits, too, y’know. And pizza has all 4 food groups represented.) But, then I started thinkin’…

Will these taxes really dissuade anyone from buying & drinking their favorite soda (or, pop, if you prefer)? I highly doubt it. We’ll just have a bunch of grumbling, peevish soda-drinkers. (And that’s before the sugar- and caffeine-high kicks in.) And I count myself in that crowd. The real purpose, as pointed out by the New York Times and others, is to raise funds for government programs and to solve local budget problems.

I know, some of you are going to think I’m still making a mountain out of a hill of beans. (I kind of like that mixing of metaphors.) Is a little ol’ tax of a few cents on soda and other junk really that big a deal? Won’t the revenues do a lot of good? Well, even if the latter is true, I have to object to the principle of the thing.

Can of Red Bull

Can of Red Bull energy drink -- It gives you wiiiiiings!

What are the real issues? Or, what should they be? First, personal freedom. Maybe it’s the libertarian streak (however small) in me, but I don’t think the government should be controlling what I consume, with the exception of those things (like drugs) that would alter my mind and motor functions in a dangerous way, thereby putting others at risk. And, I understand a certain amount of regulation for health-n-safety reasons. But, soda, pizza, etc., are long past FDA approval. Sure, the “soda tax” wouldn’t actually control anyone’s consumption habits, but I see it as one more step to the Left on a slippery slope to give government more & more control over the lives of the individual. The only exception I see is in jails & prisons. There, the government does have the right to decide what to feed the inmates, within certain parameters for minimal health requirements. Otherwise, parents decide what to feed the minors in their care, and adults are responsible for their own diets.

This leads to the second issue, which is individual responsibility. This was one of the great founding principles of this nation. (It’s also a Biblical one. Sshhh!) Is it better to be able to make decisions for yourself, even when you have to pay the consequences for unwise ones, or to have the state tell you what you should & should not, or can & cannot, do? [Aside: You know some are going to try to make this a moral issue, and when the Left starts claiming the moral high ground — when most of them don’t even believe in objective morals –, somethin’ just ain’t right. Hah!] Government has its proper functions, and fining me for making an unhealthy dietary choice isn’t one of ’em.

Third, of course, is the issue of taxation. Is there really an appropriate place for this kind of taxation? Is it Constitutional? Uuuhhhh, I don’t think so. Show me where. And are more taxes really a good idea, especially these days? ‘Nuff said, I think.

Agree? Disagree? Don’t care?

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