Let me start this article by saying that I highly doubt that Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa Delauro’s new legislation, which seeks to impose a penny-per teaspoon tax on high-calorie sweeteners in beverages, will pass. However, the fact that it’s even on the table is indicative of the presumption by many in our society that Americans can’t take care of themselves, and it makes me furious.
DeLauro’s bill is titled the Sweet Act, which is an ironic title to those who appreciate freedom of choice and the right to choose what they put into their bodies without the government altering the market. To us, this act sits as a bitter pill on the tongue that we (hopefully) won’t be forced to swallow. The full text of the bill is available here.
The Sweet Act includes about 8 pages of “why” this bill is so necessary, citing studies that show (gasp!) that consuming large quantities of sugar or high-calorie sugar substitutes is bad for you. The horror! Just like eating too much fatty meat is bad for you, or eating too much shellfish causes high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease.
37.5% of the American population is obese. The low income portion of the population is adversely effected, which is natural considering how cheap fast food is and how expensive and time consuming healthy food is both in purchasing and preparation. 5-10% of annual medical spending is on obese Americans. The act also cites the fact that consuming sugar can lead to more dental cavities, etc. This is problem many of us solve by brushing our teeth.
These are just some of the factoids included in the act, to convince those in Congress who actually get through the first couple pages (since hardly any of them read bills, and if they do, scan it) that we face an epidemic that must be stopped and damn the personal choices of those who may oppose it.
Here are a couple arguments against this.
- The tax on these beverages is a direct attack on low income citizens. There is no way around this – DeLauro wants to raise the cost of sugared beverages in the hopes that it will make the product too expensive for the poor to consume. If this wasn’t the case, why put a tax on it? What would be the point (other than to raise more money for the insatiable beast that is the government)? The tax is paid by the manufacturer, but of course this will be passed onto the consumer. This is an outrageous form of bigotry against low income people in this country, who the government is trying to economically strong-arm out of buying a product.
- Taxing a product to drive down usage is a fallacy that doesn’t work, especially among the poor. This has been proven distinctly by the cigarette tax. Taxes on cigarettes are sky-high, yet who continues to smoke more than anyone else? Low income people. The tax has deterred almost no one from smoking – those who have money simply pay the higher tax and continue smoking. Those who have less still find a way to smoke by allocating money from other places (like healthy food), or by purchasing cigarettes on the black market, tax free.
- Sugar is addictive just like any substance can be addictive. Thus trying to make one form of that substance unreachable is only going to turn people to other products that fulfill the same need, like candy. All this would do is shuffle money to another product category.
A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that there would be a theoretical 8.6% drop in consumption should there be a tax of half a cent for each ounce in a can or bottle. Granted, this conclusion is also suspect, as the RWJF also strongly advocates for this type of tax, so their results have to be taken with a grain of sugar.
..one of the authors of the study, Ryan R. Ruff, was director of research and evaluation at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in the Bloomberg administration, which waged a war on sugary drinks.
Even if they are an accurate representation, this doesn’t necessarily mean that overall obesity would drop. The study even agrees with this.
Dr. Zhen previously has done research finding that taxes on sugary drinks might not be as effective as a high tax on cigarettes in reducing consumption because consumers can substitute a high-calorie food that is not taxed for a high-calorie soda that is.
Mexico adopted a similar tax this year and predictably soda consumption is down…however it remains to be seen if this actually equates to less obese people, as many will turn to alternatives.
In recent years, consumption of sugared beverages has already gone down, due to public knowledge of what is in their drinks and what effects this has on the body. Some people care, others do not, but it is a personal choice that should not be influenced by the government.
Once this door is opened, what’s next?
As people shift their money towards another source of sugar, the natural step for the liberty-adverse minds of many in government would be to tax all sugar or fatty substances. Denmark foolishly attempted an overall tax of this nature, taxing all fatty foods. That tax is now gone, as it resulted in no betterment of health, and simply drove purchases out of the country as Danes went to Germany to stock up on the foods they loved without having their rights infringed by the state.
One final, ironic note…the US government also provided about $1.3B in subsidies to crops that form many of the high-calorie additives in food and beverage (corn syrup, corn starch, vegetable shortening, etc.). Instead of levying another tax on top of the tax we already pay towards these subsidies, who not just eliminate the subsidies? A question worth asking.