Sodas a Tempting Tax Target

The possibility of a tax on sugary beverages is more plausible, now that an avid proponent has been appointed to a top public health position.

Comments: 125

  1. David, it is really frustrating to paint opponents of these taxes as aligned somehow with the producers of the products. I, as a CONSUMER of the products, am opposed to these taxes. I am not a corporation or connected to one. This is gov't vs. consumer, not gov't vs. company. Companies just pass through taxes, they don't pay them.

  2. People get all upset about a "tax" on cigarettes, alcohol, soda, etc., and start screaming about a "nanny state". Actually, "nannyism" is the coddling of adults by shielding them from the consequences of their behaviors. Allowing cheap access to the garbage that destroys people's health, then expecting others - either in the private insurance pool or through Medicaid/Medicare or through the costs of indigent care that we all absorb - to pick up the pieces - THAT is having a "nanny"! A tax on junk food, fast food, cigarettes, et al. is no more than a "user's fee" for the additional health care costs that these folks are going to rack up over a lifetime. In additon, if parents have to pay more for sodas, chips, and other junk, they may think twice before shoveling it into their children and thus save us all the costs of an entire generation that is at risk of diabetes before they even get out of grade school.

  3. Don't sell this stuff in public schools!

  4. If you want to penalize fat people for using more health services, we should be moving away from universal health care, not towards it. Or have the IRS weigh and measure you once a year, and tax you based on your body mass index. Let's see how popular that tax is. Don't kid yourself that a soda tax is any different.

    A socialized health care system where we collectively share the financial burden of poor health will always make it tempting to punish, tax, or otherwise reduce the freedom of those who don't take care of themselves. That's why libertarians oppose universal health care -- because a socialist system always leads to a loss of freedom. If America believes in freedom then we must allow people to do as they wish, including stupid things. If we want to collectively share the burden of health care, we must do so with our eyes open, knowing that a good portion of healthcare is for preventible ailments. I support universal health care, but not if it means we will have a nanny/police state enforcing laws on what I am allowed to do to and by myself. I'd rather be free to live life as I choose than have a good insurance plan.

  5. Many of these snacks may be very cheap because they are made from corn grown by US farmers who receive subsidies from the Farm Bill. Wouldn't a tax then be an inefficient use of government resources? Why not just get rid of the outlays to farmers and use that money to pay for health care.

  6. In my view, fast food, junk food, and all forms of processed 'factory foods' are, collectively, just as hazardous to people's health as smoking. Taxes can be an effective incentive for altering people's behavior. Maybe more taxes on convenience foods would revive the lost art of home cooking in America, with attendant social and health benefits. Eric, lisette is right. Your soda habit represents a cost to all of us down the road.

  7. Tax 'em if you want to raise more revenue. But you're only kidding yourself if you think that this will somehow create a healthier society, or even if you think that the revenues raised will be used directly for health programs.

    As far as "the additional health care costs that these folks are going to rack up over a lifetime" -- it's actually people who live the LONGEST who rack up the highest health care costs over a lifetime. If we're taxing to make sure that those who will drive health care costs the most pay the most, perhaps it's "health food" that we should be considering taxing.

  8. Given the choice of taxing health care benefits provided by an employer or adding a tax (5%) on unhealthy food (this includes candy, chips, all sodas, ice cream, bacon, high sodium foods, fast food, etc.) I would choose the tax on "unhealthy food".

    The former penalizes everyone, the latter penalizes those who make bad food decisions. While this may not change eating habits, it would painlessly fund some of the health care insurance costs. And yes, I do eat, in moderations, some of the items noted the the previous paragraph; about 90% of America do too at one time or another.

  9. Yes, tax soda, a lot. On a related subject, soda should be banned from being purchased with food stamps as it is detrimental to health.

  10. Why not create disincentives for the co's that make the junk food? They should be punished for using all those nasty chemicals, for poor labels and for aggressive marketing to children.

  11. If you're looking to save the taxpayers some money, you can help out by actually encouraging unhealthy behaviors. Someone who dies at age 60 from a heart attack or emphysema costs "the system" a whole lot less than someone who lives to 85 in reasonably good health.

  12. Yea, tax the junk food market because of them America is the way it is!

  13. Absolutely unfair! As we now know that cholesterol and fats are "bad" for us, why not also tax hamburger based on the fat content, or marbled steaks? How about fish or seafood that are mercury-laden? Fattening pasta? Veal from animals slaughtered inhumanely? Where do we begin/stop? It is a regressive tax that will fall most heavily on lower income people, who, as demographic studies show, are more likely to eat or drink these commodities. Martin Berliner, Denver

  14. I agree with Phil in NYC who says this is inefficient - first get rid of HIgh Fructose Corn Syrup which is only available because of farm subsidies - then automatically we'll have something SLIGHTLY healthier.

    But also remember that in many communities this is the food people eat NOT because they want it, but because it is the only food that is cheap and available. If you tax junk food, then subsidize more farmers markets in low-income communities so that people have a viable and healthy alternative.

  15. This would be a huge boost to the state coffers. Man o Man Utahans live on fast food, and caffeine free diet coke is considered a Godsend to BYU. The State Legislature is known for having a Big Gulp by their side for those late night sessions.
    Yes, tax it all, make it painful for people to buy that junk.

  16. Freedom includes the ability to make choices which others (including the government) believe are not in your interest -- but, you wish to engage in. That is as long as it doesn't have an adverse effect on others.

    Just imagine if "experts" designed a regimen which "they" thought was optimal for all and you were pressured, cohersed or legally forced to follow.

    Such a system would would approach a totalaritarianistic paradigm!

  17. I think it is a fair way to raise money for health reform. However, I buy things like soda often and would curtail my purchases if they cost much more than they do now, so it is possible that this tax wouldn't raise as much money as some might think. I'd like to know how much the tax would be as I have a feeling it wouldn't amount to more than a few cents per product.

  18. Perhaps we could make a compromise if Coca Cola and Pepsi would adapt more natural sugar into their soft drinks, so then we could eliminate government subsidies for corn syrups, and tax the drinks with high fructose corn syrups, just enough so the consumer would have the preference to switch to the naturally sweetened version, to save twenty-five cents or so. I'm happy that Pepsi introduced their "Throwback" brand, which is naturally sweetened, but am disappointed that they are pulling the brand in June. Since there are so many ways to sweeten our food and beverages, why don't we tax a few of sweeteners that are devoid of any legitimate nutritional content?

  19. If the choice is between a soda tax and a higher income tax, I think it's an easy choice for most people.

    "Absolutely unfair! As we now know that cholesterol and fats are "bad" for us, why not also tax hamburger based on the fat content, or marbled steaks?"

    Sounds good to me.

    The bottom line is if we're going to pay for health care for you, you either have to lead a healthier lifestyle or pay us for the cost we incur because of your unhealthy lifestyle.

    Unlike most consumption taxes, the soda tax is completely avoidable--simply don't buy soda. It's not necessary to sustain life. Tap water is fine, and is much cheaper to begin with. I think you should be woried less about the government charging people for unhealthy things and more about soda companies carbonating and flavoring water and selling it for an outrageous markup.

  20. [Are taxes on unhealthy items like soda a fair way to pay for health care reform?]


  21. Potato chips are junk food but a baked potato loaded up with butter and sour cream to make it tasty is healthy?

    The hypocrisy is thick.

    Taxes are simply another way for the government to steal your money. Why is that so difficult to understand? Why don't people care?

    The government doesn't care about you, it only cares about itself.

  22. I think taxing things such as alcohol, cigarettes, fast food, and sugary beverages are a good idea for the following reasons:
    1) They contribute to larger health care expenses for all society
    2) it would encourage healthy behavior
    3) it could help subsidize health insurance for more people (assuming that politicians don't divert those taxes into pork projects)

  23. this is just the tip of the iceburg in our new age of "progressive" thought.

    spin it any way you want, but trying to control people's activities with tax policy is nanny-state socialism.

    the problem with it is that nobody ever agrees where the boundaries are. over time, "perfect" becomes the enemy of "good" and more well-intentioned restrictions inevitably lead to more taxes and, ultimately, less liberty.

    once we start down this slippery slope we'll all be sorry.

  24. The types of foods that would be taxed are those foods that are made with a high percentage of corn-based ingredients (corn based sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup). The corn industry is responsible for unbelievable environmental damage, and our children's children will be living with the consequences of the monoculture behemoth the corn industry represents, just as they will be paying the price for the bad health that results from a diet based on these foods, or heavily based on them.

    Tax them, and tax them heavily. we don't have much time to save ourselves.

  25. We need a real, comprehensive tax reform. No more social engineering consumption taxes, tax credits, tax deductions etc, just a progressive tax with no loopholes and no deductions. No pre-tax income, no untaxed benefits.

  26. how about just ending the massive federal subsidies for corn that makes all these horrendous products profitable for the predatory food manufacturers.

  27. When I was a kid we ate breakfast, lunch, a piece of fruit after school and dinner. Sodas and desserts were not available in school and available at home only on special occasions. There were no fat kids in school. When did eating (junk) become the national (24 hours a day) pass time? YES! Please tax all sugary drinks (not just soda). And while you're at it tax all white flour products too!

  28. Absolutely. But bother to tax at the state or local level - tax the corporation directly at the plant. Sell them a sticker for each bottle or can, much like the regional wine vintages in Europe issue, that shows they have paid a tax for that unit of soda.

    While we are at it, might as well do chips, Little Debbie products, corn syrup, kid's cereals, candy, etc. Let's make it all so decadently expensive it becomes a status symbol to order a Coke and a Twinkie in the VIP lounge at the chique new clubs. (Yes, imagine putting soda pop in your Courvoisier instead of the other way around.)

    In this brave new world the rest of us have nots will have no choice but to eat the natural whole foods we were intended to eat in the first place. Health costs will plummet alongside the national debt. Savings and productivity will rise. And we'll have enough disposable income to indulge in government regulated marijuana cigarettes on special occasions like birthdays and Arbor Day.

    The more I think about the the better I like it. Bring on the stamps!

  29. I'm solidly in favor of a tax on sodas. That stuff is not food. It's a mix of toxic chemicals that are well known to cause serious health problems.

    A measure to tax sodas was voted down here in Maine, largely because the soda manufacturers outspent the pro-soda-tax folks by at least 10 to 1.

  30. A fair way to pay for health care reform would be to raise the tax on the profits generated by the health insurance companies who constantly raise premiums, cut benefits and deny claims.

  31. I do not get this thinking. Once more, the onus is on the consumer. Have you ever been poor? Do you realize that going to McDonalds et. al. is the only way some people CAN eat. Why put more on the poor, who are victims of these bad practices of the fast food industry who produce poor-quality nutrition, and get the consumer addicted this food. And the cigarette companies addict the smoker, and the smoker pays w/ not only poor health or death, but taxes? Tax the cigarette-makers, the fast food places, who refuse to produce healthy nutritional foods. And yes, the soda companies who use corn syrup, also known to be the problem, and addictive, as well. This country makes no sense to me anymore. So many burdens on the people. This has become a horrible country that is ruled by the almighty dollar at the expense of humanity, and a good, decent life for all.

  32. Some of these comments are amusing as they replicate the arguments that insurance companies have used for years to limit their coverage, and in many cases deny it altogether. Yet I suspect those who are making these comments find insurance company's restrictive practices as "inhuman."

    If there is to be national health care, which I endorse, then simply insure everyone without all the fine print about who can and who cannot do what. After all that's what an insurance pool was intended to be. Who's to say that one habit is better or worse than another among our personal choices? Should we punish vegetarians whose lifestyles include non-eating risks that others consider excessive by keeping them out of the insurance pool? And if so, who is competent to compile such a list?

  33. I'm with the libertarians on this one. The government has no business trying to dictate how I should or should not live my life.

    I have no health insurance and no intention of getting any. I do not expect society to pay for any behavior choices I make.

    If I should keel over from a heart attack due to a lifetime of smoking, drinking, over-eating, not exercising, etc., BY NO MEANS should anyone attempt to resuscitate me, or call 911 or take me to any kind of healthcare facility.

    If you do, I will sue you personally for any healthcare expenses I incur.

    Consider this my advance directive... DNR.

    I'm expecting all my fellow libertarians will do likewise. Consider it our patriotic duty to cut healthcare spending.

  34. wait'll they find out that obesity is not a cause of diabetes but rather an early symptom of diabetes. Actually, the early effect of diabetes is an irregular metabolism which processes carbohydrates into stored fat cells and creates cravings for more carbohydrates. Diet can regulate weight but not the carbohydrate cravings. Dr. Atkins was on track to discover this. The cure for carbohydrate cravings isn't a tax on sugar. It won't cause or create a cure for obesity or diabetes. Learn to identify the early warnings of carbohydrate cravings and the onset of diabetes can be delayed indefinitely in most people. Due dilligence is required to limit carbohydrates in those showing symptoms. "Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean." That statement is true in many ways but relate it to carbohydrates rather than fat as the pre diabetic body generates fat from carbs and creates a pac man like deaire for more and more of them.

  35. If it makes sense for the government to tax tobacco and alcohol, then I do not see any difference in taxing junk foods. Obesity does, after all, affect a much larger (pun intended) percentage of the population than alcoholism and tobacco addiction combined. Tax away!

  36. Yes, by all means and while they are doing this perhaps they could double the taxes on cigarettes, all candy, sugar padded soft drinks, beer and hard liquor, while lowering the prices on all sugar free natural foods, fruit drinks and so on and so forth......................

  37. there's precedent for it, and it's a good idea from a public health, revenue generation and common sense point of view.

  38. Tax sodas regardless of whether they contain sweeteners. Zero-calorie sodas should not be exempt.
    The question is, tax bottled tea and coffee too? I say yes if it's loaded with sugar but no if it's not.

  39. Let's face it. America loves snack foods because they taste good and they are easily accessible - there is an abundance of processed foods out there. What we need to do to combat obesity is to change our attitudes towards snack foods. Companies need to produce more healthy snacks that taste good. We need to create and share good recipes for healthy snack foods. And yes, please stop putting vending machines in schools and other spaces!! Or at least mandate that they be filled with better, healthier products. We have to make it that much harder to find those Twinkies and Oreos.

  40. If people didn't buy that garbage these places would be forced to offer a healthier alternative or go out of business. Taxing will do little. However educating the masses, in the long term will have a far greater impact.

  41. Fast food is NOT the only inexpensive way to eat -- that is nonsense...

  42. Enough of the sin taxes and "bad for you" taxes. Let's put a 3-4% National Sales Tax on everything sold in the United States with no exceptions or exemptions to pay for universal health care. Rebate the tax to lower income individuals and families. Everyone benefits and everyone pays a "fair share."

    Unfortunately, I think Washington is enamored of the current byzantine morass of tax code to ever let such a concept see the light of day.

  43. Yes.

  44. I think people who eat stuff that is proven to cause health problems should pay extra tax on them because their health problems cause my health insurance to go up, regardless of how healthy my diet and lifestyle choices are.

    Blimps who live on "big gulps" and have absolutely no concern for their own health shouldn't have that kind of lifestyle subsidized by me!

  45. I think it's a fine idea, but it would be better if we stopped government subsidies for corn products (something we definitely don't need more of in our diets). I think we could redirect those subsidies to fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the major problems is that healthy food is too expensive relative to processed junk. If this could change the balance, I'm all for it.

  46. A few additional cents in the form of a tax on unhealthy foods and beverages won't serve to deter those who want to eat and drink those products. What it will do is force people who insist on being a self-created burden on our health care system to bear more of the costs of their own care. That sounds fair to me.

  47. Apparently many of the commeners have never seen a US Soldier. US Soldiers will routinely eat fast food, drink plenty of sugar filled sodas (in the south we just call all soft drinks Coke} and yet you do not see "fat" or "unhealthy" soldiers. It is not the sugar that is causing an increase in the girth of the average American, it is the lack of exercise.
    Maybe the better way would be to reward those who exercise and can verify that they have burned more calories than they take in. But wait - Obama and the Socialists would not be able to actually run our lives. Oh well.

  48. Until I see actions based on science, rather than what's politically possible, it will be difficult for me to support a food tax. I don't eat ice cream, cheese, drink beer or soda or fried foods, so personally it does not matter. Junk food is an easy label, not a classification. But if the goal is to make fat causing foods less attractive, then please include ice cream, butter, chocolate bars, fried foods, beer, and nuts.Anything with a high amount of fat and suger per calorie should be targeted. And make the tax proportional to income: the rich should pay more the privilege of taking up two seats on airline.

  49. Taxes are the price you pay if you want your town, state and country to have good schools, good infrastructure, good policing and a good military. If you want me to pay five cents on the dollar for soft drinks and ice cream in order to have good, universally available health care, then my god, bring it on!

  50. I all for taxing those who abuse their bodies and then tax the healthcare system and boost my premiums. We already have sin taxes on liquor and cigarettes. I want higher taxes on gas and any other item that in the end taxes me more through increased costs to my life style of self control and purchasing only the necessities of life. America cannot continue its wasteful ways without consequences. The world is tired of supporting your obese and wasteful ways.

  51. I love eating food that is terrible for me almost as much as I love beer. Guess what, they're both unnecessary and incredibly dangerous to the public. I am far from wealthy and I can't afford to pay extra taxes on these items. Guess what, they're unnecessary and incredibly dangerous to the public people. Get over it.

    People need some impetus to curb their snacking habits, this is a good way for us to help the government to help us.

    We do need tax reform but using government policy to curb our association with things we shouldn't be consuming anyway is good government.

  52. I support a tax on things that undermine health, including soda and twinkies. I also support a change in the farm subsidy system. Currently, farm subsidies are oriented toward crops used largely for foods that undermine health, such as corn used to make corn syrup. The economic incentive for eating unhealthful foods becomes especially powerful for people subsisting in minimum wage jobs. I support replacing subsidies of crops such as corn with subsidies of foods that promote health, including fruits and vegetables.

    The goal of this two-pronged approach would be not only to help fund health care via a tax upon health-undermining foods, but also help facilitate prevention of disease by improving the population's health, via the subsidies of health-promoting foods.

  53. Wow, Rob K., remind me to order the low fat low carb cheesesteak the next time I'm in Philly....and to wear my boots, 'cuz something it must be getting deep there....

  54. While I try to limit my soda intake, I cannot drink diet soda--it literally makes me sick. So why tax the only soda option available to me?
    I think Rob in PHL has the right idea reform, reduce and remove the present tax system to a simple progressive tax.

  55. The comments from some of the folks here make me think I'm in England, not the USA. Don't you realize that your kind of thinking is the reason our ancestors LEFT the old country? It makes me sick to think our society now believes government is the solution.

  56. I am willing to bet a large number of people opposed to this tax are for cigarette taxes... yet in principle they are the same thing.

    If cigarettes are taxed as a measure of public health, then I believe soda as well as fast food, and anything else that can be construed as clearly abusive to public health should be taxed as well.

    As for myself, as a non-smoker, I oppose all these taxes, including the tax of tobacco products. Most things can be enjoyed in moderation, and tobacco as well as soda and fast food all fall into this category. I believe excessive taxes on any of these products violates basic principles of personal freedom.

  57. Does the government have the right to raise revenues through taxes? I think so, as long as we still feel like its authority is derived from the people. If it has the right to raise revenues through taxes, I think we should accept commodity taxes as an exchange we're making for better services. If we don't want the government to raise revenue through taxes, we need to be willing to accept diminished services. I'm a low income student who relies heavily on government services to meet my basic monthly needs, so I favor increased taxes to generate increased revenues to expand the programs I use. A business owner, who relies on the government to provide roads, a stable currency, trade agreements, ports, and subsidized water, gas, and power, should also favor increased taxes and increased services. That same business owner relies on me to provide affordable labor, and I am subsidized by the government as well. If business owners are interested in paying me enough money to compensate for the services I would lose without government assistance, and if consumers are interested in paying higher prices to compensate for the raise that I would need, then let's reduce taxes, reduce services, and actually see how the free market responds when it is expected to provide for itself. I challenge you to show me a Chamber of Commerce with the resources and organization to maintain a network of roads and ports.

  58. Consumers are more conscious about their spending habits than ever, I know I am. Taxing sodas will just turn people off from buying a can soda. I already think that the price of sodas out the vending machines are already to high. With less consumers buying sodas hurts the company, which causes the loss of jobs.

  59. I have long been a proponent of taxing junk food and using the proceeds not to finance health care reform but to subsidize the organic food industry, hopefully with the result that good food becomes more competitively priced with low-grade, high-calorie food.

  60. Go ahead and tax them, no one "needs" soda. Hey, I like Coke too, but let's face it, it's bad for you in big quantities. I also agree with cutting all these corn subsidies. It's 2009, that's just corporate welfare to big conglomerates, not helping the folks in "American Gothic".

  61. If you begin to tax people for unhealthy, costly behavior, shouldn't you also tax gasoline, and driving automobiles in general? Hell, in that case, you should tax carbon emissions as well.

  62. Tax sugary drinks? I don't drink them, so sure. Isn't that how we determine which sin taxes to levy?

  63. Taxes, no matter on what, change the behavior of some portion of the taxed population. So why not use taxes to discourage behaviors that are detrimental? Taxing non-food food additives (like petroleum-based food coloring) or highly processed foods would almost surely lower healthcare costs, and it's much less invasive than, say, a seat-belt law.

    I also absolutely don't believe the argument that someone who dies of a chronic disease at 60 costs the system less than someone healthy who dies at 90. Chronic diseases cost the victim & system thousands of dollars before death; an annual checkup isn't very expensive.

  64. I don't know about other people, but I know that adding a little extra cost to my daily habit would certainly give me pause, and to start looking for alternatives. Besides, consumers are struggling against the same corporate manipulations that have bedeviled cigarette smokers; adding addictive substances to increase sales. Caffeine is just as addictive as nicotine.

  65. It isn't a long term solution to our health care solution but every little bit helps. If we tax alcohol and cigarettes I see no reason not to tax other unhealthy and non-essential products like candy, potato chips and soda. The easiest way is just to disallow the state tax food exemption. At the same time, we need to find a way to make some healthy foods more affordable and accessible for low-income earners.

  66. Tax sitting still.

  67. Well, I think it's a much more responsible action than legalizing marijuana and taxing that. But, we all eat sugar so everyone would suffer from the tax increase. That is a lot more money to take care of plenty of problems that require extra money (hopefully if it did happen, it would go to health insurance as someone else said. It is for helping the overall health of all of us, so if it went to say, the military that'd be ridiculous).

    People had fits when the tax on cigarettes went up and now look at the majority national opinion on smoking.

    I do believe that processed food/fast food is more of a factor in obesity than sugar. We all have our pig-outs, but most obese people eat lots of processed foods/fast foods. After having my baby (I don't feel like signing out of my husbands account and into mine, that's why this post is by "Spencer") I gained 70 pounds. 12 of that was my daughter. It took me 21 months, but I lost 70+ pounds and weigh less now than I did when I first got pregnant. I did what doctors/nutritionists say to do, eat well and exercise. Most people do not have the focus and motivation that I did. I think doctors should try to give more positive reinforcement in obese patients and a lot more help than seeing the people a few times a year. But I digress...

    Anyway, I don't care if they tax on sugary food AS LONG as the money goes to health care reform.

  68. I think it is a bad idea. I love seeing this influx of overweight children. A tear of joy roll down my eye and I think how cute they are, and how the are going to get diabetes in their twenties. I even get more excited how I'm going to be able to help pay for their medical expensive for the rest of their lives. I have always found it works best when you ignore a problem until it gets way out of control, because then you really can't do anything about it. God bless the G.O.P.

  69. No. It's yet another idea for the government to finance bailouts and otherwise "redistribute the wealth".

  70. While I think that taxing junk food is a good idea, I am not sure how it will be implemented. We now get into the great debate on what exactly is junk food. It may be simpler to tax sugar, oil, butter etc.

  71. In most states, these foods are taxed through sales tax anyway, and that didn't slow down the recession any. While no one needs junk food and I personally would like to see people eat less of it, the tax would probably be ineffective. Cigarettes have been taxed for years but cost is rarely the reason why people quit smoking.

    I would much rather see a ban on high fructose corn syrup.

  72. No way. Unhealthy items? How do you define them? Is whole milk an unhealthy item because the food police want everyone (except children) to drink skim? Where does it end?

    What a complicated mess for the retailer to figure out. Plus, how would the government be able to sort out the revenue on this so that it got used for health care, and not dumped in to the general fund? The cost to administer the tax wouldn't be worth it.

    I don't eat much junk food, myself, so I wouldn't pay much of this tax. I'm a scratch cook, use very few prepared foods, and rarely eat out because I have to watch my blood pressure - prepared foods like frozen dinners and restaurant food have so much sodium and fat, they could be called unhealthy. Should we tax all restaurant food too?

    Let's tax everyone equally to pay for health care. I do not profess to know how to do that, but I do know that even people who eat very well still get sick and die eventually - everyone needs health care, everyone should share in the burden of funding it, poor and wealthy, healthy habits or not.

  73. what about rewarding healthy behavior?
    Let us write off the high cost of gym membership if we go a certain number of times a year (call in to a number, like the program some insurance companies have).

    Let Americans on food stamps/WIC get MORE out of each dollar when buying fresh produce, and even more if they use that aid at a farmers market (i.e. "this is worth $1 for processed food, but $2 or $3 for produce/protein/dairy.

    Give healthy food shops an incentive to open in urban areas so the corner store doesn't only sell beer and chips.

    And dare I say, if substantial weight loss is noted by a doctor/clinic in a patient, then the insurance company/medicare/medicaid should give that patient a reward (savings bond, reduced insurance rate, something like that).

    Reward and encourage health(ier) behavior and let the chips fall where they may.

  74. What's with the comments about junk food being cheap? The whole center of any grocery store today (except whole foods and the like) are filled with expensive JUNK, including just about every cereal there. Parents will pay anything to keep their kids happy and silent and that includes feeding them all the sugary junk they want. My my....

    You can buy a whole chicken for the cost of a fast food burger. Add some inexpensive veggies and you have a decent meal.

    goes back to the quote I like to put forth by Hitler: What good fortune for government (my owns words: AND CORPORATIONS!!!!)that the people do not think. If you think health care is expensive now, just wait till these kids grow up.

    No it's not the healthy adult who lives a relatively long life that is costing us a fortune. It is those primarily with Type II diabetes and all related diseases and they are primarily the obese.

    Like it or not, it's fact.

  75. If there has to be a way to raise revenue to pay for it this is a place to start. If you do NOT make the worst offenders conscientious and put them on notice that they WILL pay their way ... then there is no way this new health plan agenda will work

  76. What a brilliant idea.

    In addition to motivating people to drink more healthy beverages, such a tax could also help pay for cleaning up the litter from people who drink these bottled beverages and then carelessly toss them on the ground. (Note: the ground is not a free-advertising mural for Coca-Cola and the likes.)

  77. All products that contain any traces of High Fructose Corn Syrup or genetically modified corn should be subject to taxes not just selective items, as they all are responsible. I am not a puppet of the Corn Refiners Association or on the payroll of ADM, nor will I listen to their junk science or propaganda.

    I will advocate instead of another boring Tax Tea Party to have a Tax Soda party.

    All this smacks of the state deciding what you will eat, where you will live and how you will live, in other words Communism or the end of a Free America.

  78. Tax junk food. People who think it's worth it will still buy and we'll have more money to take care of them with the extra cash.

  79. No need for taxes, stop subsidizing corn.

  80. No, these taxes are regressive and hurt the poor disproportionately. You know what's really unhealthy for the nation as a whole? Rich people (those with yearly incomes above $500,000.00) not paying their fair share. Increase the maximum tax rate to 70% for these people, back to where it was before Reagan began the ruining of America. That would pay for health care, and a lot more.

    Oh, they'll all move away. Really? Where? To Norway or Holland, or some other European country, where they'd be taxed at similar rates? To some third-world cesspool? I don't think so. The conservatives predicted massive "tax flight" when New Jersey instituted a "wealth" tax several years ago; the flight never happened, (fewer than 2 percent of those subject to the tax left New Jersey) and New Jersey gained billions in much-needed revenue.

    But Bloomberg and the other super-rich continue to make the tax-flight argument, despite conclusive proof to the contrary.

  81. The cost for eating or drinking junkfood should be tax deductable. Same obviously goes for smoking. It is bad for your health so these folks die quicker saving the rest a lot of 65+ retirement funds.

  82. As much as I'd like to see high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated anything become history, part of the problem here is deciding what is "unhealthy."

    [Which reminds me: why is there high fructose corn syrup in certain name brand cereals touted as "better for you"?!?]

    Does it stop with soda, or is sweet iced tea added? How about slushies?

    How about anything with trans fats-- I think there's a pretty solid medical consensus of how bad they are. Oops, that does include steak, doesn't it?

    How about anything with peanuts-- unfortunately deadly to a small fraction of the population. (Salmonella not included here.)

    I'm not sure I would trust anyone to decide on my family's behalf what is and isn't healthy.

    Meanwhile, we do it ourselves. Except for the occassional cane sugar sweetened gourmet cream soda, nothing carbonated comes into the house-- we honestly don't like it. I've trained the kids to read labels, and they do.

    The bad ingredients are everywhere...

  83. I am 64 and run 3 miles almost every day. I don't eat junk food. Shouldn't the government support me?

  84. No. Maybe a tax on soda and other items considered unhealthy would be in order to encourage alternative choices or discourage excessive indulgence. But for the money to set up a Universal Health Care System and for the bulk of its funding a 1% tax on the income of all Americans is the way to go. It wouldn't even be considered a tax. Congress needs to pass a resolution declaring that each year 1% of the Nation's wealth be collected and set aside for the health care of all Americans. To supplement that funding there can be a system of fees and taxes to fine tune and regulate the use of the health system. What should not happen is that the existing system remain in the hope of a miraculous change of heart. Taxes or no the old system must go and its players need reform.

  85. "Let's tax everyone equally to pay for health care." - Katharine @#72.

    As someone who doesn't smoke, drink or eat junk food and who exercises regularly (much like Katherine, in fact), I say the hell with that. Why should someone be allowed to pick MY pocket because he can't control what goes into his mouth? If you're going to have universal health care, you have to have the nanny state, if only to get a handle on costs. You can't have complete freedom to wreck your health and then dump the bill on the taxpayer when it's time to try to repair the damage.

    I'm all for sin taxes. (I do drink diet soda, which has no nutritional value and BTW is already subject to NJ sales tax. I would pay the additional tax if it applied. If you really like junk food that much, put your money where your mouth is and pony up.

  86. I'm all for a sin-tax. It sounds like a good way to encourage healthy habits, and cut out on health problems. It would be nice to ride the subway, and be able to actually fit everyone in. I'm pretty sure the train car I road in this morning could have fit 5-6 more people on it if everyone on the train was a healthy weight, or heck, it just would've meant more space for people to feel comfortable.

    I noticed a number of commenters see this as some sort of "Freedom" issue. What freedom are you afraid you're losing? You can still eat what you want, you just pay more for it.. the true cost of what you're doing to the rest of us through your actions.

    I hope this plan would be enacted with the good sense to abolish corn subsidies at the same time.

  87. "If we could cut back on our soda drinking, we would be both thinner and richer." Why? The soda tax, as the NEJM article points out, would have to be heavy to reduce consumption of sugared soda. It would be much more on an "unnecessary" 8oz Coke at 97 calories than a "healthy" 8oz apple juice at 160 calories that costs more. You would have to substitute water or diet soda for the sugared drink in order to reduce calories and lose weight. The projected decrease in calories from the tax would mean a weight loss of 2 pounds in an average obese person, the article states. Water is already much cheaper, so the tax is not necessary to supply Pigovian price information.

    The rise in obesity in the US has been associated with an increase in consumption of all beverages except for milk. One theory is that drinking liquids does not lead to a sensation of fullness. This applies to any drink. The portion size of all beverages has increased, rather than the calorie density. The paper provides no evidence that increasing prices on sugar drinks would lead to lower prices for solid fruits and vegetables nor increased consumption of them. There is no evidence that any particular form of sugar is more healthy than another, instead of the total calories. The article points out that spending the tax on preventing childhood obesity would make the tax politically acceptable, but there is no evidence that we know how to do that education effectively, and in any case this point was soon forgotten in testimony to Congress, where the tax was portrayed as a "savings."

    It is true that you could save money by spending less on soda, but only if you do not spend it on something else. There is no evidence that substituting "healthy" fruit juice with more calories leads to savings in weight or money or health. The theory in the article that the tax would lead to health gains is untested and the article states that effects are uncertain.

    In any case, the argument for the soda tax is that it is politically convenient, as Smith said. No doubt the argument for your decreasing soda consumption has more to do with your relations with your wife than any convictions that it would affect your pocketbook or health. The Pigou argument is fallacious. The tax would be imposed even if there were no health gains, the article plainly states.

  88. We need more education, while not more tax. Maybe we need more money to buy healthy food. While, if we eat too much so-called healthy food, then, they will also become unhealthy.

  89. I think it is a clever way to guide behavior rather than outright controlling it. A ban on these items would suggest more strongly the "nanny state" people keep mentioning. But, much like Obama's plan to have automatic retirement savings be the default, this plan just tries to use psychology to guide us toward healthier behavior. Maybe you'll only let your kid annoy you into buying him one bag of Skittles each week instead of two, and he'll only be overweight instead of obese. Of course you CAN buy the second bag, but the slightly higher price makes you think twice. There, i just came up with the Mayor's slogan to sell the plan. You're welcome.

  90. Don't blame consumers. The real culprits of our food and health crisis range from the USDA and FDA to ethanol and farm subsidies to factory farms and agribusiness to corporate food manufacturers and industry lobbyists. It's a sick and incestuous business that removes the human factor and replaces it with the bottom line.

    So, definitely tax junk and fast foods, but let's not forget that the problem begins with the relationship between the food industry and our government. The consumer is simply an end user who has limited choices and is often unaware they are consuming unhealthy products laden with HFCS, trans fats, hormones, antibiotics, byproducts and fillers.

  91. Sure, people should be responsible for themselves and they need to make the right choices. But guess what? By and large, people are stupid. That is why there are still millions of people who smoke, sunbathe and eat themselves into oblivion. Obesity, which is directly related to all kinds of life-threatening cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, is not merely just a minor phenomenon. It is a health EPIDEMIC that is getting worse and worse every year. Accordingly, measures have to be taken to make sure that we are not facing some kind of a healthcare cliff XX years from now when the U.S. healthcare system would be paralyzed by the onslaught of obesity-related illnesses. People have long known about the dire consequences of unhealthy eating habits, but by and large, the warnings have been ignored. It's time to take action, and I believe taxing junk food and sodas is only a start.

  92. Is taxing an efficient way to change people's behavior? Additional taxes may also affect the beverages industry and destroy jobs for people who are benefiting from current tax benefits and subsidies. Also, how would total tax revenue from junk food result from such a tax increase considering the high elasticity of the junk food market? I would advocate for policies to better educate the average person about healthy living habits and to require soft drink companies to reduce calories and/or put sth like "too much sugar is not good for your health" on their products.

  93. Why not start with an honest version of the question =

    Are taxes on unhealthy items like soda (even if they have NO EFFECT on reducing obesity or increasing health) a fair way to pay for health care reform?


    Something widely ignored here = why do we assume we need tp "Pay" for health care reform? We ALREADY pay far more per capita on healthcare than any country in the world. Isnt that the problem? Doesnt 'fixing' healthcare mean reining in the insane complexity of the multiple-payer system and its bloated bureaucracy , not throwing MORE money down the toilet of government managed programs that dont deliver any real benefits?

    I mean, please. The whole question of, "what should we be taxing MORE" is an insane diversion from, "why do we already pay too much, and get nothing?" Where is the reform in just debating *how* we're going to throw more money into a deep dark pit? People have brainwashed themselves into the idea that more money is somehow an answer to bad systems. That is exactly the thinking that got us into this problem in the first place!

  94. Sure, why not? Often the very people that spend money on this junk food are the very people that have "no money" or are on welfare. They say they can't afford anything but fast food, junk food etc. Yet there they are, spending $1.50 or whatever on some sugar-filled soda for their A.D.D. kid, when they can get free drinks right from their kitchen sink! I agree that if this will help to get a generation of kids off of chemical additives and sugar, that it's a good thing.

  95. Yes! I shouldn't have to shoulder the national health burden of lazy Americans who drink sugar water and eat McDonald's and lay around watching TV, then get in their SUVs and drive to the ER when their hearts fail them. By now we all pretty much know what's bad for us - fatty, high sugar diets, overeating, smoking and lack of exercise. If people insist on continuing these behaviors, they ought to pay a higher share of the health care costs in the form of taxes on these things. This is only one part of a giant problem.

  96. to 21...a potato loaded up with butter or sour cream has more fiber and micronutrients than processed potato chips. We don't eat convenience foods in our home, but we do eat baked potatoes. It's the difference between food and food-like substances.

    Are taxes on unhealthy items like soda a fair way to pay for health care reform?

    Of course.

  97. Everybody wants to tax junk food because it's unhealthy for our society. How about exercising and doing some outdoor activities? Make gym class mandatory for every grade from K-12 and college. How about not having vending machines in K-12 grades? And what about the sugary juices? They're just as bad as sodas.

    A calorie is a calorie and a sweetener is sweetener. Period. The myth that high fructose corn syrup is making us fat in a unique way should stop there. Unfortunately, it hasn’t.

    When it comes to counting calories from sweets, the math is simple. All natural sweeteners—including sugar cane, sugar beets, corn, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and others—are made up of two basic sugars called glucose and fructose. Each of those sugars contains the same number of calories as all other carbohydrates: just four calories per gram. So a gram of fructose in table sugar is no more fattening than that same gram of fructose in honey, or in a sweetener made from corn.

    It’s a common but unfortunate misconception that corn sugar, often called “high fructose corn syrup,” is substantially higher in fructose than table sugar. That’s not true. Its very name is, in fact, a misleading one.

    Table sugar is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. High fructose corn syrup is either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, with the remainder being glucose. Nutritionally speaking, the two sweeteners are identical.

  98. These proposals attempt to reframe the fundamental issue in American health care: health care for profit. So long as we have a capitalist health care for profit system owned by insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, we're going to be thrown these tidbits to growl over. What we really need is universal free health care for all people now, paid for by everyone's taxes.

  99. To Mary NYC and the 17 people who reccommended her post:

    You are absolutely wrong. Getting rid of HFCS and replacing it with cane sugar misses the point entirely. There is no nutritional difference between the two. The body treats them both the exact same way.

  100. Isn't this akin to the seat belt debate? There are always going to be opponents, but I think the general population agrees seat belt laws are a good idea and have been shown to save lives/costs related to injury - why not do the same with the chemical-ridden, syrupy drinks that are the main culprits in fostering childhood obesity and poor eating habits that last for a lifetime?

  101. The efficacy of these taxes is questionable as are the definitions of who is overweight/obese and the imports of having a certain Body Mass Index. In addition to being concerned regarding the agendas of the food companies, you may wish to consider that the organizations that are pushing the taxes and other 'incentives' to maximize your health [see NYT May 19th: Congress Plans Incentives for Healthy Habits] have their own agendas which are not altogether [$] altruistic. Self-righteous, splenetic condemnations of people who eat donuts and/or potato chips, etc, are of no value and simply reveal prejudice. Additionally, over and above considerations of effectiveness, it would be wise to ask yourself whether you wish to live in a society in which your every decision could be evaluated in the context of your supposed 'harm' to others [defined by whom?] or your productivity/utility to society or to the State.

  102. I used to drink roughly 2 to 3 Cokes a day. Five years ago, I stopped drinking soda all together and within a 2-month time period lost 15 pounds. And I haven't had a cavity since. Must have saved a couple thousand dollars, too. Free tap water is the way to go.

  103. Why not? We should tax butter, too. Don't want any moms making 'unhealthy' cookies and cupcakes for their kids. Better tax 'white' bread, too, since its just fluff and way less nutritious than whole wheat.

    We have to tax everything that is not super healthy and not sold in Whole Foods. Do not let people choose to eat some junk food one day and then continue to excercise the rest of the week.

    You are all fools. My wife eats ice cream every single night and bakes cookies about once a week. Oh yeah, she is 5'9 115 lbs and runs about 20 miles a week. I think she is an adult and can manage her food intake wisely and responsibly. But you would tax her for other people's mistakes!

    Why not add a tax to hospital services instead?? That way people actually pay for their own mistake of being fat and unhealthy!

    You liberals drive me crazy by punishing repsonsible people for the benefit of the irresponsible.

  104. Aspartame gives me migraine headaches. I wish Coke and Pepsi would use stevia as a natural sweetener in their diet sodas, as they do in Japan. Even their non-aspartame sweetened drinks seems to cause me headaches. I have a health condition that causes fatigue, so I live on natural colas. Do I get a special dispensation for the tax? And if I'm being taxed on cola, why are not people drinking sweetened coffee with whipped cream not also being taxed.

  105. in answer to the question posed in the headline: yes. taxing unhealthy food and drink (including alcohol) to pay for health makes perfect sense. these things contribute greatly to bad health and thus to health care costs. and taxing them (thereby raising the price) provides an incentive for people to make healthier choices. there's a reason poor people generally eat poorly: junk is vastly cheaper than healthy food. exposing its true costs (to individuals and broad populations and society as a whole) would have the effect of democratizing healthy food -- surely a worthy goal (and a bonus as we try to figure out how to pay for health care for all).

  106. You're going to do what ever administration has done in this state and country when money is needed - you tax the poor out of what they use, abuse, or buy.

    Nothing but politricks as usual.

  107. Too bad real science is not in the room. Then, following the logic of taxing junk food, we would also have to tax the billions in harful prescription drugs people are tricked into taking every day for the health of big pharma.

  108. Apologies: The date is May 10, 2009
    Congress Plans Incentives for Healthy Habits

  109. This is completely ridiculous. The only reason the market is glutted with soda is because of government subsidies for the production of corn. So now we are supposed to tax people when they buy these products full of government-funded corn syrup? Just end the subsidies for corn. The soda will vanish from the market, fewer people will be obese as a result of drinking it, and the money saved by not subsidizing corn can be put toward universal health care.

  110. Absolutely.

  111. Our federal government is $11 trillion, that is $11,000,000,000,000 in debt, and the rate at which we are acquiring this debt is accelerating. Our states are in similarly bad shape. We need to consider EVERY idea for generating new revenue, and a tax on soda and other non-essential items is a pretty good idea. We already have a luxury items tax... if you don't want to pay it, well, don't buy the luxury item. So with the soda tax. While the argument regarding demographic skewing is a valid one, so is the argument that the very demographics that would be most impacted (let's say lower income urban and suburban minorities) would benefit the most by refraining from consumption of these unhealthy, non-essential items.

    Personally, I am not a fan of universal health care (health care is not, in any way, constitutionally gauranteed), nor the endless social programs which are (inefficiently) administered by our federal, state and local governments. However, many of these programs are so entrenched (and vigorously lobbied for) that they are unlikely to go away. That eliminates the possibility that we will relieve our deficit crisis through cost cutting... we NEED to look to generate additional revenue. That means more taxes, as much as we all hate paying taxes. Instead of a blanket tax that all must participate in, I am a HUGE fan of a selective tax that we can choose to participate in... if you NEED that Pepsi, cough up the extra nickel and enjoy your beverage knowing that some good (putting a little something in your state's income statement) has come out of your poor choice.

  112. First of all, there would need to be a clear definition of "junk food". If a product is likely to be taxed because it has no nutritional value, isn't it possible manufacturers would throw in some vitamins and call it food? Taxes would have to be very high to keep folks away from their favorites loaded with grease, salt and sugar...3 basic food groups.

  113. Yes. What better way to discourage consumption of these unhealthy items than to make them cost more money? I think the best way to decrease the enormous amount of unnatural, processed food production is to tax products with ingredients that can be harmful and cause obesity, such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.
    This would encourage companies to make better, healthier foods that will cost less than the unhealthy versions.
    And to use the money to help those in need of healthcare? Perfect.

  114. Basic economics folks. If you increase the price of a product or activity you discourage its use.

    If the use of a product or activity imposes costs on people other than the consumer then it is fair to increase the price so that consumers can feel the full pain that their consumption is imposing on society.

    If we use the tax to finanace health care then we impose present burdens to finance and also to reduce further costs.

    Friedman did not teach this stuff but we are not living in a Friedman world.

  115. Yes, of course, we are running out of things to tax.. Soda, is fair game, beer is fair game, also whole fat milk, cheese is fair game.... Cake, of all things, is really fair game..Ice cream and ice cream cakes really fair game... I saw a guy get on the train the other day with a fatty egg and bacon sandwich and his pal with a butter filled bagel....Those are really fair game..Bacon Cheeseburgers should be outlawed. Thats a start, but there are lots other things we can tax, but lets start with the obvious ones I list above...

  116. WE ALL PAY FOR THE PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT TAKING CARE OF THEMSELVES (ie. healthcare costs, coworkers missing work due to illness etc) and countries such as Sweden and even Canada have very high taxes on things that are not the basic necessities ie alcohol, cigarettes, candy, soft drinks etc. YES taxes on unhealthy items (short of getting rid of unhealthy item access especially for children... ie NO soft drink machines & healthier items in the snack machines at schools!! Diabetes type II is increasing in our children as is their weight and soft drinks are a fast, easy way to increase diabetes and weight in our children!

  117. Absolutely.

  118. How about just a tax on over-eating? Everything in moderation, my friends.. Learn to put down the fork!

  119. Let'st start by removing the subsidies to corn syrup and sugar, i.e. unravel the farm bill.

  120. While I have no problem with the govt. imposing higher taxes on unhealthy items, how to define "unhealthy"?

    Fat was supposed to be all bad, and then the new knowledge of good-fat vs bad-fat came up. So are nuts, organic butter defined "unhealthy" or not? Low-fat milk was touted as the best choice, yet lots of authors are coming up with full-fat milk as the best choice since it is less processed. How about alocohol? All bad? or is red-wine good for your heart?

    A generation ago, formula was considered a more "wholesome" choice for infants than breastmilk. What's good, what's bad? For all the advances in medical science we still are a long, long way from truly understanding our bodies, their relationship to food and other environmental factors.

    So maybe, just maybe.... the gut-feeling decision we make about food choices are better than those dictated by "popular" science for the day. [disclaimer: I'm not in support of people who behave irresponsibly and want others to clean up after them. But I'm really scared of being forced to do, what someone in Washington *thinks* is the right thing for me to do.]

  121. In most cases a tax on users pays for incidental costs associated with the good or service they are using. This is no different-- eat and drink unhealthy foodstuffs and you cause national healthcare costs to rise. The users pay for the cost increase they cause.

    One reason soda and other junk foods are so widely used is precisely because they are cheap. Anything to make them less appealing is a win in my book.

    What kind of a world do we live in that sells a bottle of soda for less than a bottle of water, anyway??

  122. cjhsa in Michigan says:

    "Potato chips are junk food but a baked potato loaded up with butter and sour cream to make it tasty is healthy?

    The hypocrisy is thick."

    You're correct, cjhsa, your hypocrisy is thick and we've noticed it.

    No one aside from you has ever claimed that "a baked potato loaded up with butter and sour cream is healthy."

  123. What about personal responsibility? Whatever happened to that?

  124. Why single out soda for an extra tax? The culprit is sugar, whether it is cane or beet sugar or corn-based syrup. All provide calories and absolutely no other nutrients. Those sweeteners appear in many, many products. A sugar tax should apply to many cereals, baked goods and mixes, ice cream, and other products besides sugar-sweetened sodas. The tax should not apply to artificially sweetened sodas -- but what do you bet that the stores will continue to charge the same price for both regular and diet sodas?

  125. YES! Finally. It's fair - everyone pays it, and everyone's still free to eat whatever they want. With a junk food tax, at least there will be money to pay for the hlthcare needed for the diabetes, heart disease, etc. the junk food addicts will get.

    It's a good "stick"; how about a "carrot" to go with it: give any adult a "reverse co-pay", somewhere between $50 - 100, who gets tested, once a year, for 1) Blood Pressure, 2) Blood Sugar, 3) Cholesterol, 4) Weight. It's far cheaper to find and treat these risk factors than the heart disease, strokes, diabetes, hip replacements ... that inevitably follow when they go untreated. And it would way more than cover the cost of "reverse co-pays", a positive way to incentivise good hlth behavior.