Would People be Less Sweet on Sugar if it Were Taxed?


On the heels of the British Medical Association (BMA) calling for a sugar tax on beverages, two physicians have engaged in a point-counterpoint on the idea…

A 10% soda tax in Mexico that began in January 2014 appears to be reducing consumption, even though many experts suspected the tax wasn’t large enough to matter. Also last year, the city of Berkeley in California became the first to tax soda, at a penny an ounce, along with sweet tea, sugary juices, and energy drinks…

But the role of sugar in obesity is less clear and associative, making the title of the BMJ debate — “Could a sugar tax help combat obesity?” — misleading, Lustig pointed out…

Sugar has been subsidized in the U.S. for many generations. Criticism of the subsidy has grown in recent years, but if it isn’t rolled back, it would make little sense to tax what we are subsidizing, said Lustig…

“Taxes on unpopular products are not all that difficult to pass, especially when the revenues are targeted to social purposes people want to see.” She added that Berkeley is using its revenues, which at more than $100,000 during the first month of the tax are substantial for the relatively small city, for kids’ health programs…

If the sin taxes we paid really went to causes like kids’ health programs (as cigarette taxes are supposed to), maybe a sugar tax would be easy to pass. But I’ve seen the government move money around like it wasn’t earmarked for anything, so you can’t sell me on this fake deal again

“Maybe such a tax will force hard-working American families to better utilize their limited monies, so that, for example, if they are forced to make a choice, they will chose milk for their children over sugar-sweetened cola,” she wrote…

I suppose milk is better than soda.  Of course, too much milk is also fattening. And some people are allergic to milk, or just plain don’t like it.  I guess there’s always Kool-Aid.

Let’s look at our experiment in sin taxes for cigarettes.  Yes, the high taxes have decreased sales and use.  But I think it was the shaming of users, along with bans on public use, that really had an effect on the number of smokers.

You want to shame fat people?  Shame diabetics?  Push people into the closet when they want to have a soda?  Ban public use of soda?  As if soda was the only product on the grocery store shelf that contains a lot of sugar or is bad for you.  Is ice cream next?  Or are ice cream products okay because they contain a little milk?

Part of the answer is to create better access to fresh fruit and vegetables.  And that means there should be a fruit or vegetable stand wherever there is a fast-food joint.  Wherever they sell soda, they should also have to sell fresh fruit.  It may take some time, but people will start making better choices without being forced or taxed into it.  Using force always means there will be those who rebel.

One thought on “Would People be Less Sweet on Sugar if it Were Taxed?

  1. Somehow I’ve missed all the controversy on taxing sugar products before this so I want to thank you for posting this. Sugar is toxic and very addictive – many recent studies support this so I am all for taxing sugar, especially soda that has no nutritive value whatsoever. However I even better like and support your idea of making fresh fruits and veggies more easily accessible. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to often find fresh fruits offered by the cash registers of establishments here such as Dunkin Donuts and many convenience stores. I am very glad this issue is getting more attention.

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