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<Jaws theme> Legislating a sin tax on soda </Jaws theme>
April 15, 2002 8:21 AM   Subscribe

<Jaws theme> Legislating a sin tax on soda </Jaws theme> California state Senate Bill 1520 would impose an excise tax on sweetened beverages sold to retail dealers after July 1, 2003. Sen. Deborah V. Ortiz, the bill’s author, anticipates that pop distributors would pass the cost along to consumers. Just let me keep buying Entenmann's crumb cake, ok?
posted by NortonDC (34 comments total)

 
Amazing... give them long enough, and there's nothing legislators won't try to tax. Next thing you know, it will be Krispy Kremes, and then anything with sugar in it. All in the name of the children.

Reminds me of the old saw about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions.
posted by Irontom at 8:44 AM on April 15, 2002


Good idea if you're an ends justifies the means kinda person, which most people are or seem to be.

um, no, not a good idea, but neither is any kind of tax aimed at controlling behavior - booze, cigarette taxes? what is the justification? As far as the soda pop tax, it is entirely consistent with sin taxes. This issue isn't the beginning of the slippery slope it is the result of tax policy aimed at influencing (curbing) behavior that started with buying cigarettes and alcohol.

To be clear, soda tax is a bad idea but no worse an idea than other "sin" taxes. I don't drink soda water but I do smoke cigarettes. Why am I paying a "sin" tax on cigarettes but the 400-lb. woman next door can buy soda water with no extra tax? Is the state attempting to help me by imposing the extra tax on cigarettes, in hopes that I cut down or quit because of the extra cost? If so, doesn't the fat person with bad eating habits deserve the same kind of motherly, fatherly looking after that I enjoy as a cigarette smoker? Or does the state charge smokers an extra tax to punish them for making the "wrong" choices? If so, why shouldn't that notion - punishing people financially for making the wrong choices - carry over from one vice to another?
posted by chris0495 at 9:02 AM on April 15, 2002


Reminds me of the old saw about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions.

Yep - only it isn't even good intentions, but rather simply a thinly veiled excuse to get more money. Became quite apparent during the cigarette lawsuits. States (and attorneys) got billions from the cigarette companies. They were very careful, however, not to damage the companies too severely ... but only took a specific amount of money, and permitted companies to spread payments out over years. On the surface, they made noble public claims about being out for the public good. Behind the scenes, it was also clear that the states had absolutely no desire to have citizens actually stop smoking - they make millions a year from taxing cigarettes - and simply assume their budgets will continue getting this flow of income (in fact, a number of states would be in deep trouble without it).

Citizens are hooked on cigarettes. But bureaucrats are even more hooked on cigarette taxes. Will be the same with soda I suspect. Does anyone really believe taxing it will have positive public health benefits? Sheesh.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:27 AM on April 15, 2002


MidasMulligan - Does anyone really believe taxing it will have positive public health benefits?

Yes, I do, because the same tactic is known to be effective against cigarettes, the use of which is much more difficult for a person to control.
posted by NortonDC at 9:38 AM on April 15, 2002


The whole concept of sin taxes is really just an excuse for new monies, needed or not. If control was truly the agenda here you would have a cigarette/alcohol/cola card with a monthly quota. Some countries have alcohol licenses for consumers. They don't limit how much, but they do get suspended or taken away if you get caught driving drunk, buying for minors, etc.

The whole economics of adding taxes to addictive (be it psychologically or physically) substances might make some sense on the macro scale but when Joe Sixpack wants to up it to 2.5 packs a day he'll find a way to pay for it.
posted by skallas at 9:39 AM on April 15, 2002


Why am I paying a "sin" tax on cigarettes but the 400-lb. woman next door can buy soda water with no extra tax? Is the state attempting to help me by imposing the extra tax on cigarettes, in hopes that I cut down or quit because of the extra cost? If so, doesn't the fat person with bad eating habits deserve the same kind of motherly

Because your smoking costs everyone in the country an average of $7 per pack (NOT including the cost of the cigarettes, the profit to the tobacco company OR the "sin taxes.") to cover the cost of halth care, lost wages, blah, blah, blah. The "fat person" may have health costs associated to her as well, but so far not to the extent that a smoker does.

Perhaps it would help if people who have anti-tax tunnel vision (the ones who complain about anything that is perceived as a tax -- no matter what it is for -- as they drop $4 a pack on cigarettes a day) would look at the big picture. Coca Cola, et alia, are pumping children full of caffeine in the school. This is unhealthy for the children — and therefore the country — and the school's hands are tied (or at least that is their claim) because they NEED the revenue the cola companies put into the school.

Reminds me of the bumper sticker about waiting for the day when the Defense Department has to hold bake sales to buy their guns and bombs.

I don't necessarily agree with this approach to the problem, but it is a problem. What I would prefer to see is the revenue from this tax go to schools in an effort to get the big glowing caffeine injector systems out of the hallways. However, I also think that real foods (non-junk foods) should be exempt from taxes along with clothing.

Full disclosure: I gave up smoking recently, and I love cola even as I try and ween myself of it.
posted by terrapin at 9:41 AM on April 15, 2002


Just let me keep buying Entenmann's crumb cake, ok?

no one's stopping you from buying anything. You just have to pay a few pennies more if you want food for fun instead of food for nutrition. This is just another step in that direction. As it is, real fruit juice is more expensive than soda. Hence, lots of poor kids grow up drinking soda instead of juice and have poorer health for it. I don't see why we shouldn't collectively tip the boat back towards favoring health.

but so far not to the extent that a smoker does.

You apparently missed this thread.
posted by mdn at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2002


he sure will and it will be illegal.

our ciggy taxes are so high in the uk now, that one in every four cigarettes smoked here is smuggled in from the continent.
posted by Frasermoo at 9:44 AM on April 15, 2002


I don't drink soda and I don't care. I don't understand why people drink so much of it. It's just sugar water crap.
posted by MaddCutty at 9:49 AM on April 15, 2002


maybe it's just to make up for this.
posted by badstone at 9:50 AM on April 15, 2002


terrapin - The "fat person" may have health costs associated to her as well, but so far not to the extent that a smoker does.

Incorrect. Obesity raises healthcare costs more than smoking. As Seen on MeFitm

What I would prefer to see is the revenue from this tax go to schools in an effort to get the big glowing caffeine injector systems out of the hallways.

*cough* "The tax money would be used partly to replace funds that schools would lose by dropping contracts with soda companies to sell pop on campus."

[preview- mdn got there first, but I like "As Seen on MeFitm"]
posted by NortonDC at 9:51 AM on April 15, 2002


Even if this beverage tax does go down, it won't last for long. In the early 90s, California instituted a snack tax. In the interests of serving the people (i.e., winning more votes and/or support from the snack industry), Representative Brad Sherman led a repeal of the California snack tax. Of course, it certainly helps that lobbyists come in all varieties.
posted by ed at 9:59 AM on April 15, 2002


economics people! sales taxes are only passed on to consumers to the extent that demand for the product is inflexible. If raising the price of soda results in less people buying soda, you can bet that the soda companies are going to eat the tax in order to keep the price constant for the consumer.
posted by boltman at 10:32 AM on April 15, 2002


Everything pleasurable will eventually be taxed, except sex. Until someone discovers that's unhealthy too. The progress of the nanny state is depressing. If you wanted to take further the logic of taxing things that are bad for you, why not go the whole hog and have progressive itemized taxes, with ration books and ID cards.

Then the tax on the first bottle of booze or packet of cigarettes could be a very small amount; slightly larger on the second and, by the time you're into the thousands, become debilitating. One soda does no one any harm. But if you've been having four or five a day for years...

The whole thing makes me sick.

When they start paying subsidies to people who don't smoke; don't drink; don't get fat; don't drive SUVs; et caetera(as a compensation for not being a drain on social resources, yadda yadda) then I'll agree with these interfering, totalitarian little taxes.

Bah!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:43 AM on April 15, 2002


I don't like income and property taxes because they are based on wealth. I do like "sin" taxes because they are based on useage which is something I have control over. I like them even more because they are based on useage of something I don't have to use. Therefore, in principle, the larger the proportion of tax that comes from sin taxes the larger the portion of tax I can get out of paying. I choose to see sin taxes as the government giving me a choice in how I am taxed and to what extent I am taxed where before I had no choice at all.

I would think the MeFi crowd would prefer to have power over how much tax they pay but I seem to be in the minority.
posted by plaino at 10:43 AM on April 15, 2002


Incorrect. Obesity raises healthcare costs more than smoking. As Seen on MeFitm

Yeah, and those that actually read the thread instead of reading your self-aggrandizing self-link will see how full of holes that "study", and all "X causes $Y in healthcare costs" actually is.
posted by aaron at 10:51 AM on April 15, 2002


Stick it, aaron. It's a link to MetaFilter, therefore impossible to properly call a self-link, and it's inside the thread, where even it was a self-link it would still be appropriate, not to mention on-topic.

plaino - I don't like income and property taxes because they are based on wealth.

An income tax is, by definition, based on income, which is not wealth. Property taxes may be considered a form of wealth tax.
posted by NortonDC at 10:59 AM on April 15, 2002


If the government was morally and logically consistent, they would tax everything that is not expressly 'good' for your health. According to some government-defined standard, of course.

The government has two possible motives (they are not mutually exclusive). 1) They want to stop people from drinking soda 2) They want to increase their revenue flow, dramatically.

But, regardless of their intentions, the action is wrong on its own merits, for several reasons.

1) Taxes DO prevent people from buying in state, if they are high enough
no one's stopping you from buying anything. You just have to pay a few pennies
Maybe if you're wealthy, but a 'few pennies' adds up over time. And once all snack items are taxed, it will be a 'few dollars'

2) When taxes become too high, a black market for that product springs up. It doesn't matter what the product is, if you can profit by bringing it across an unprotected border, such as a state line, you would probably do it, no matter how silly smuggling snack food sounds.

3) When you give government the power to govern behavior which should be, on principle, free or government regulation, you have moralists of all stripes competing for this power. This is why we have groups like Peta, the Beef Council, and everyone else with their lobbyists in D.C. They have too much to lose if they stay out of the moral regulation process. Feel free to support this process, if you wish to spend the rest of your life watching this cesspool of special interest groups fight over your tax dollars.

I think this health-care costs thing is misleading, as well. If obesity and smoking raise health care costs, does that mean we(meaning tax dollars) are paying for the health care of others, the majority of which are receiving that health care because of obesity or smoking? It seems to me that the government is then in effect subsidizing bad behavior. Free healthcare for preventable illnesses is similar to the moral hazard associated with buying any other type of insurance (people take fewer precautions due to insurance).
posted by insomnyuk at 10:59 AM on April 15, 2002


*free of government regulation
darn
posted by insomnyuk at 11:00 AM on April 15, 2002


"Everything pleasurable will eventually be taxed, except sex." Miguel, you havn't been to Nevada, have you?
posted by Mack Twain at 11:00 AM on April 15, 2002


Forget taxing unhealthy food, cigarettes, etc. The real cause of obesity & killer of good health is television. On average, individuals in the industrialized world devote three hours a day to the pursuit--fully half of their leisure time, and more than on any single activity save work and sleep. That means sitting there letting the body and the brain rot. Clearly, television needs to be taxed heavily. Of course, most of us here wouldn't waste that much time in front of the boob tube. We're too busy letting our bodies turn to flab while reading Metafilter...so therefore Metafilter needs to be heavily taxed...ummm...forget I said anything, ok?
posted by tdismukes at 11:14 AM on April 15, 2002


As for the argument that smoking places a cost on all of society, one must factor in the fact that because smokers die at an earlier age, society saves big time on smokers' lost social security payments.
posted by mikegre at 11:21 AM on April 15, 2002


If the government was morally and logically consistent, they would tax everything that is not expressly 'good' for your health.

The government could also go the opposite route and subsidize what is good for you and leave the "bad" stuff alone.
posted by skallas at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2002


An income tax is, by definition, based on income, which is not wealth. Property taxes may be considered a form of wealth tax.

Yes. However, my point is the same. I'm all for any incremental shift from tax on wealth (and income) to tax on useage, especially if it's useage of something I don't need.

The real cause of obesity & killer of good health is television.

Agreed. I'm not fat in the first place but I lost 25 lbs during the 2 years I lived in Switzerland where TV sucks.
posted by plaino at 11:31 AM on April 15, 2002


Coca Cola, et alia, are pumping children full of caffeine in the school. This is unhealthy for the children — and therefore the country — and the school's hands are tied (or at least that is their claim) because they NEED the revenue the cola companies put into the school.

Pumping 'em full of caffeine -- the equivalent of a half-cup of coffee into a body with 1/4 the mass! -- and also pumping them full of food colouring, artificial flavourings, and preservatives.

Little wonder little Johnny has learning difficulties. The poor fucker is being poisoned by his parents and educators.

I'm all for any incremental shift from tax on wealth (and income) to tax on useage...

Alas, this places the greatest tax burden on the poorest people: a far greater proportion of their income goes towards purchasing than toward saving and investing.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:13 PM on April 15, 2002


I gave up Diet Coke 104 days ago. I don't live in California, and thank dog for that. I do not know if I would have been gouged by the new tax, and I am happy I don't have to find out the hard way. I am sure the Deborah Ortiz feels like she is a swell person, but I already have a mother, and I have no need for a self important dink like her to be looking out for me. I wish politics attracted a better sort of person.
posted by thirteen at 3:14 PM on April 15, 2002


I think that products should be taxed at a rate equal to the ratio of their marketing budget to the costs of producing the products that the company actually sells. So if it costs coke $2m a year to produce all the coke they sell and their marketing budget is $200m then they should have a 10,000% tax on their drinks. Whereas OpenCola, with little or no marketing, should have 0% tax.

Okay, I don't really believe this, but it's an interesting converstation.
posted by krisjohn at 4:45 PM on April 15, 2002


Here's an idea, they should tax people for using MeFi. After all, no one needs MeFi to survive... at least, I hope not. Also, MeFi is probably causing some medical expenses. Just think of all the meals you’ve missed, all the hours of sleep you’ve given up, and all that strain on the eyes because of it. Besides, look at all this bandwidth we are hogging, couldn't it be put to better use by, say, research institutions, or by obese people looking for ways to drop that nasty habit of drinking soda.

Hey, it wouldn’t be so bad; some of us might even start exploring the world outside, and stuff…
posted by epimorph at 7:15 PM on April 15, 2002


I'm switching to crack, who's with me? They already tried regulating that. Or ice. Man, ice is amazing stuff. The paranoia isn't much fun but while you're up you have almost a week to get your next score. I have plenty of time left over for mefi.
posted by Settle at 7:28 PM on April 15, 2002


Like a gravestone, Gunman.
posted by dong_resin at 8:51 PM on April 15, 2002


Wait, so we under fund our schools which are then forced to turn to private companies for money, and then when we don't like the effects of the products the private companies are selling to the students it somehow becomes okay to decide to just take the companies' money and stop compensating them? That's like a Times Square billboard owner saying they don't like an ad so they won't display it, but that they're going to force you to pay them anyway because they need the money.

Whoever came up with the idea of making grand claims about the cost to society of certain behaviors should be shot. Perhaps I'm not thinking clearly, but try to follow my logic here: Society is composed of people, and of organizations run by and created by people. Society exists. Therefore the average person must contribute to society, because if the average contribution were negative than society would not exist for long. Society is, I posit, the collective value of a group on interacting people. So if you want to penalize a person for cost bourn by society as a result of their actions, don't you have to weigh it against their contributions? But what is the total value of a single person's contribution? How do you figure that? I suppose you could go by taxes paid over a lifetime minus services used, but that would be impossible to compute and not extensive enough anyway.

See, because the whole point of a society is share the benefit people can bring each other. It makes no sense to penalize because an individual's net contribution is less, even if it is due to a voluntary behavior. People's contributions are unequal, drastically unequal, but each brings what they have, assets and liabilities, and the net effect is a benefit for all. The costs of society, such as paying for lung cancer and adult-onset diabetes, are far outweighed by the benefit, I would say, though you may disagree. And to penalize for a behavior that has some cost associated with it is equivalent, in numbers, to penalizing the gas station attendant because his contribution is less than that of the scientist who develops fusion power.

Whatever. Yet another reason to leave California.
posted by Nothing at 9:52 PM on April 15, 2002


Nothing - ...it somehow becomes okay to decide to just take the companies' money and stop compensating them?

The article makes clear that the expectation is for the costs to be borne by consumers.

Therefore the average person must contribute to society, because if the average contribution were negative than society would not exist for long.

This is only true under the assumption that their can be no such thing as a negative society, one that drains dignity and worth from its members. I do not buy in to that assumption now, but would like to hear arguments for it.

And to penalize for a behavior that has some cost associated with it is equivalent, in numbers, to penalizing the gas station attendant because his contribution is less than that of the scientist who develops fusion power.

Our society does penalize the gas station attendant relative to the nuclear scientist by paying the attendant far less. Is this paragraph intended to be the defense of communism it comes across as?
posted by NortonDC at 4:13 AM on April 16, 2002


Nothing: So if you want to penalize a person for cost bourn by society as a result of their actions, don't you have to weigh it against their contributions? But what is the total value of a single person's contribution? How do you figure that? I suppose you could go by taxes paid over a lifetime minus services used, but that would be impossible to compute and not extensive enough anyway. Indeed. The problem, as you might be implying here, is that it's all counted in terms of money and numbers. If the gas station attendant's contribution is considered simply in terms of how much he/she makes versus how much he/she costs, then the number crunchers are leaving out the very HUMAN aspects that are more important to SOCIETY in the first place. Sure, government SHOULD be cost effective, but it's NOT, and the idea that they still make decisions like this based on numbers - not talking about Communism, just Humanism. Society is people, not money. Society would exist without money, money would not exist without society.
posted by thunder at 8:49 AM on April 16, 2002


Well, some people seem to believe sugar can be addictive, but there's hardly a scientific consensus for that. But let's say it is. If so, the next thing to target is fruit juice and fruit: after all, apples may encourage tooth decay.

On the other hand, not every person who is obese necessarily has a disease that can increase that person's chances of an early death (note "FAT" in the link address). So those who won't get sick have to pay higher taxes because many will get sick. ("that person", because we like to use she/her a lot to be PC but here wouldn't want to stigmatize wymmin as fatties.)

Anyway, I believe it's up to the parents to inculcate their children with good eating habits.

Now where are those twinkies...
posted by phartizan at 1:52 PM on April 16, 2002


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