Is Sugar the New Tobacco? How to Regulate Toxic Foods
March 27, 2016 5:50 PM   Subscribe

This article [pdf] explores the health risks associated with added sugar. It then examines how, if at all, sugar should be regulated, by considering tobacco regulation as a possible model.
Part I identifies the health risks of sugar consumption. Part II examines the reasons why sugar is added to so much of our food supply. Part III provides an overview of tobacco regulation, including educational initiatives, warning labels, advertising restrictions, age limitations, and taxes. Finally, Part IV provides a framework for sugar regulation, suggesting that most of the foregoing laws designed to discourage tobacco use should, with the exception of age restrictions and with appropriate modifications, be applied to products with large quantities of added sugar.21 Part IV also suggests regulatory changes within the FDA to remove sugar’s classification as a substance that is “generally recognized as safe (GRAS).”22

In addition to looking solely at sugar, Part IV also takes a broader look at how food policy can shift to improve the overall food supply in ways that enhance consumer choice,and proposes the appointment of an Independent National Director of Food, who would have sufficient authority to help neutralize the impact that the food lobby has on food supply.
posted by aniola (70 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by aniola at 5:59 PM on March 27, 2016


and proposes the appointment of an Independent National Director of Food, who would have sufficient authority to help neutralize the impact that the food lobby has on food supply.
Do you want Chelsea Clinton in the pocket of Big Sugar/HFCS? Because...
posted by b1tr0t at 6:07 PM on March 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


You post this on Easter? Cruel.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:11 PM on March 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


Nice bunny you got there. Shame if anything were to happen to it.
posted by scalefree at 6:25 PM on March 27, 2016 [11 favorites]


In order to change the food supply it may also be necessary to rethink
what it means to be a good corporate citizen. Current lobbying efforts on
the part of big food appear to have no regard for public health.228

Fundamentals of corporate law should shift, incorporating regulations to
encourage corporate accountability to more than just shareholders.229

Corporate laws that emphasize profit maximization to the exclusion of all else should be re-evaluated.
Well, that seems even more unlikely than regulating sugar as tobacco.

There are some pretty reasonable proposals in the PDF: stopping the subsidies of sugar products, require additional labeling, potentially tax (although this would impact the poor hardest of all, which is troubling), increasing public awareness of the health impacts of sugar.

The thing is, much of the tobacco regulation is allowed for a couple of reasons: tobacco is a drug that is not allowed to be consumed by minors (so advertising restrictions make a ton of sense), secondhand smoke can impact those not directly choosing to consume the product. The conspiracy by tobacco executives to lie about and hide the truth about the effects of tobacco (up to lying to congress) also created a political atmosphere that made it much easier to heavily regulate.

As the PDF points out there was severe political backlash in the attempt to even mildly regulate sugar in NYC. The PDF also rightfully points out the lack of political will (because of the populations reactions to the regulations in NYC, for starters) and the strong impact of lobbying on legislatures.

But this document has already had part of its goals realized - there is now discussion about the appropriate regulation (if any) of sugar. This conversation had begun before, but papers like this will help foster the continuation of such discussions.
posted by el io at 6:30 PM on March 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


So, I don't doubt that eating a lot of sugar is likely bad for one's health. But I skimmed part one of this paper and noticed it contains a lot of strong and/or unusual statements backed by references that are either of dubious quality or which need to be stretched fairly far to be read as supporting the original statement.
Sugar consumption is also associated with mental illness, including depression. [64]
Where reference [64] reads:
O'CONNELL, supra note 28, at 79; DUFTY, supra note 8, at 48 ("It is quite possible to improve your disposition... and change your personality for the better. The way to do it is to avoid cane and beet sugar in all forms and guises."). The so-called "twinkie defense" has been criticized as a form of "defense du jour" that has no real legitimacy. State v. Stewart, 719 S.E.2d 876, 904 (W. Va. 2011) (Benjamin J., dissenting) (the majority "encourages such notable defenses as the "twinkie" defense (used in the defense of Dan White in the killings of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.")).
Another claim:
There is also evidence that sugar is addictive. [65]
[65] DUFTY, supra note 8, at 24 ("Sugar Blues... deserves... to become the universal name for an addictive planetary plague.").
One more:
Our bodies respond to insulin resistance by producing more insulin, which ultimately causes blood sugar levels to rise. [59]
[59] Taubes, supra note 1.
Note 1 refers to this article in the New York Times which paints a rather more complicated picture of the story than the original claim seems to suggest. I'm not entirely sure what the overall point of the claim was supposed to be, so I'm not entirely sure how to evaluate the impact of the stretch upon it.

I'll probably read the rest of the article, but it's definitely setting off some warning bells for me.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:35 PM on March 27, 2016 [36 favorites]


and proposes the appointment of an Independent National Director of Food, who would have sufficient authority to help neutralize the impact that the food lobby has on food supply.

Conservatives were already frothing at the mouth over Michelle Obama's promotion of healthy school lunches. They'd lose their damn minds over an "Independent National Director of Food". You'd have weekly Food Patriot mass shootings.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:38 PM on March 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Well, if "sugar" is a problem, I'm sure the Corporate Food Chemists can come up with a better substitute, like HFCS... waitaminute...
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:44 PM on March 27, 2016


OK, this settles it. From part two:
Fructose, however, is metabolized like alcohol. After all, alcohol (ethanol) is fermented sugar; they come from the same plant, and they are taken care of by the liver in the same way. [73]
[73] Laura Schmidt, Opinion: why we should regulate sugar like alcohol, CNN.COM (Feb. 1, 2012), http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/01/health/opinion-regulate-sugar-alcohol/index.html ("Many of the health hazards of drinking too much alcohol, such as high blood pressure and fatty liver, are the same as those for eating too much sugar. When you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. Alcohol, after all, is simply the distillation of sugar. Where does vodka come from? Sugar."); see also Lustig et al., supra note 8.
The opinion page article cited to support the claim that fructose and ethanol are "taken care of by the liver in the same way" does not state or even suggest that fructose and ethanol are metabolized in the same way.

As a matter of fact, fructose and ethanol are not metabolized (or "taken care of") in the same way at all. Fructose is converted to glucose, lactate, and glycogen, while ethanol is converted first to acetaldehyde, then to acetic acid, then to acetyl-CoA. Different compounds, different enzymes, and different pathways.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:49 PM on March 27, 2016 [81 favorites]


Conservatives were already frothing at the mouth over Michelle Obama's promotion of healthy school lunches. They'd lose their damn minds over an "Independent National Director of Food".

Government bureaucrats telling you that your own children can't smoke in your home was only the first step.
posted by thelonius at 6:57 PM on March 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Can we please purge the Puritans from the Left now? Or at least circulate a strongly-worded manifesto condemning them?
posted by b1tr0t at 7:08 PM on March 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


It is unusual going into otherwise upscale healthy supermarkets and anything to drink has multiple fistfulls (literally) of sugar.

It's not like we're stuck on Aspartame either. Sucralose is a thing. *Stevia* is a thing. We have lots of substances that are sweet, but the American obsession against unearned pleasure means they have to be bad or at least low class.
posted by effugas at 7:12 PM on March 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


So basically, having to show a driver's license to buy a bar of chocolate or a bag of jelly beans, which are kept behind the counter? Yeah, this is going to go over well. Frankly, this seems like "Sugar Blues" take 2. I wonder if the new version has the section where the author attributed our loss in Vietnam to sugar consumption?

It is unusual going into otherwise upscale healthy supermarkets and anything to drink has multiple fistfulls (literally) of sugar.

There's something sugar-free to drink: it's called water. You might try milk, as well.
posted by happyroach at 7:53 PM on March 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Frankly, this seems like "Sugar Blues" take 2.

Oh, so that's what citation 65 was talking about. I wasn't familiar with that reference.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:55 PM on March 27, 2016


You might try milk, as well.

See, that lactose is actually a problem for some people. I think it has to go behind the counter too.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:03 PM on March 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Even as a diabetic who's had to severely restrict his sugar intake (I just had a "mousse" that was made of heavy cream, cocoa, and Truvia), I find the idea of a War on (Some) Sugar(s) kind of amusing. Kids getting S.C.A.R.E T-shirts (the C is for carbs); bootleg apiarists thundering along mountain roads with jars of Gold Lightning in the trunk; the SEA planting rhododendrons in an effort to combat the bootleggers; a SEA agent splitting open a white baggie, dipping the tip of a finger inside, tasting it, and saying, "Never mind, it's only cocaine."
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:13 PM on March 27, 2016 [24 favorites]


I ended up in the ER the other week for health and not for work. The hospital I went only served drinks with no sugar (diet everywhere). I admit from a health standpoint managing blood sugar in house that this is a good idea.
SunnySky accompanied me, and wanted a fizzy drink. She gets headaches from all the unnatural sugars and had to leave me for like 15 whole minutes to walk to the local CVS.

I was pissed.

I'm not sure how much regulation would work, these days it isn't like kids just walk to the convenience store by themselves. That's likely to get a parent a CPS investigation.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:21 PM on March 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Counterpoint: Should We Tax Unhealthy Foods and Drinks. Unlike lawyers, economists have two hands.

Some excerpts from the executive summary (click through for the 2 1/2 page version, or the full 35 page report):

This report examines a wide range of factors that determine the benefits and costs of
using taxes to improve nutrition. That assessment yields ten findings:
1. Excess sugar consumption stands out as a health risk warranting policy attention.

2. Taxes can change what we eat and drink.

3. The health effects of nutrition-focused taxes depend on all the ways consumption
changes.

4. In principle, taxes can encourage businesses to develop and market healthier products; in practice, most existing and proposed taxes fail to do so.

5. Taxes are an imprecise way to address many nutritional concerns.

6. By changing what we eat, taxes can improve health.

7. Taxes create losers, not just winners. For example, a US tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would impose more than four times as much burden, relative to income, on households in the
bottom fifth of the income distribution as on those in the top fifth. In addition, people who
consume targeted products without harm will pay a new tax or shift to less enjoyable or
more expensive food and drink options without getting any health benefit.

8. If policymakers decide to use taxes to improve nutrition, the sugar content of drinks
would likely be the best place to start.

9. Policymakers should give careful thought to how they use revenues from taxing unhealthy
foods and drinks.

10.Several aspects of nutrition-focused taxes remain under-studied.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:22 PM on March 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


Jeffo-Wup's quote references Robert Lustig of UCSF, who's been an anti-sugar leader for years.
posted by anadem at 8:34 PM on March 27, 2016


For example, a US tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would impose more than four times as much burden, relative to income, on households in the bottom fifth of the income distribution as on those in the top fifth.

Yeah, that's my biggest problem with taxing it away. Similarly tobacco and alcohol tax aren't a huge burden on the well off, but are economically very hard on the poor.

That being said, it's downright shameful that corn is subsidized... If we are going to subsidize corn, that should go away entirely if any of the corn the farmer makes is used to produce high fructose corn syrup.
posted by el io at 8:36 PM on March 27, 2016 [10 favorites]


I just think of it as the vice that will kill me instead of tobacco or alcohol.

The problem, see, is that sugar is delicious and the only reason I'd stop eating sugar is if I was told I had to pick between sugar and cheese, which I'm sure will come in another couple of decades when my diabetes arrives.

Making it more expensive probably wouldn't stop me, I'm afraid.
posted by Scattercat at 9:28 PM on March 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the part about appointing an incorruptible public official and changing the fundamentals of corporate governance is a bit hand-wavy.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:44 PM on March 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am a far-left socialist, and I believe the government should have tight regulations over practically everything, especially all things corporate. But frankly I find the tobacco comparisons to be sickeningly disingenuous. If there were no such thing as secondhand smoke, I wouldn't even give a toss about limiting and regulating tobacco use. People can do what they want to themselves. Limiting tobacco is important because there are so many situations where it can be exposed to people who did not consent to be, including children. Sugar doesn't work like that. There's no such thing as secondhand sugar. Label things and be aware of what you're eating, but some guy at the booth next to me isn't going to expose me to sugar intake by the very nature of his eating. That's my first issue with this.

My second issue is that I've never heard this presented in such a way that doesn't sound really, dangerously close to "rich people tell poor people they're not allowed to have anything they enjoy, and can only have water and stale bread".

On preview, el lio covered more or less what I wanted to say, but not as angrily.
posted by branduno at 9:46 PM on March 27, 2016 [21 favorites]


The opinion page article cited to support the claim that fructose and ethanol are "taken care of by the liver in the same way" does not state or even suggest that fructose and ethanol are metabolized in the same way.

There is some serious fluoride-in-water deceptive/meaningless phrasing, stretching, and just Woo going on here.

I particularly hate it because this is a cause I nominally support, but it's like... Way to sound exactly like anti vaxers guys. Why is almost every conversation I've seen about this full of that crap? Can we just stick to the damn science which is decently supportive and not try and jazz it up?

I've been following this since high school, and that crap always comes out. Ughhhhhh.
posted by emptythought at 11:02 PM on March 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


As a lady who just ate a whole chocolate bar, I find this article outrageous.

As a person who just ate their first morsel of chocolate since mid-January and spent the previous 4.5 years not eating sugar and barely any carbs at all, and who essentially minored in Public Relations, wow that was a terribly sourced load of crap and crazy.

Was it written a a joke? Trolling Annals of Health Law? If so, it was a way better troll than the case study ad campaign I created to reform the image of Exxon after the Valdez disaster.
posted by monopas at 11:02 PM on March 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


If there were no such thing as secondhand smoke, I wouldn't even give a toss about limiting and regulating tobacco use.

I largely agree with you... But... It makes a ton of sense, in my mind, to regulate the direction of advertisements towards children (which the industry was certainly doing, and still does outside of the US; where it's allowed to). It also makes a ton of sense to have large public health information campaigns; presuming that they are effective in helping reduce the number of smokers. And living in a country with socialized health care, it makes a ton of sense to tax tobacco to help recoup the cost of treating the cancer that it will inevitably cause.

These efforts, undertaken by the government have inevitably saved lives.

Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty steadfastly against banning tobacco chew use, I don't know if there is any science supporting banning the smoking outdoors to reduce 2nd hand exposure (what about those car fumes I'm breathing in as I'm walking down the street).

I think its possible to have a strong view about personal liberty and at the same time recognize public health risks and engage in reasonable steps to help public safety.

Personally I find it pretty disturbing that I can find cereal in the store that has more grams of sugar in it per serving than goddamned cookies. And as a sugar lover, I'm pretty pissed that I have to buy expensive specialty soda if I want real cane sugar - and I blame the subsidizing of corn for this bullshit.

That being said, while there are nuggets of some reasonable ideas in this paper, as a whole it's pretty flimsy. The science it's putting forth isn't solid, its proposals are hit-and miss, and it's final conclusion of 'to solve this problem, we must get rid of the toxic effects of money in politics, and corporations need to stop putting money in front of public interest' to sound more like a wordy Occupy chant than a serious academic paper.
posted by el io at 11:42 PM on March 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have to buy expensive specialty soda if I want real cane sugar - and I blame the subsidizing of corn for this bullshit

Real sugar also has price supports in the US (production quotas and import tariffs) that raise the price relative to the global market.
posted by ryanrs at 1:10 AM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


So...the fact that the human body requires sugar to survive? And doesn't require tobacco?

Making these two things completely fucking different?
posted by threeturtles at 1:34 AM on March 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also,

tox·ic
ˈtäksik
adjective
1.
poisonous.

This isn't like people where you can just call someone "toxic" and people have to take you at your word.
posted by threeturtles at 1:41 AM on March 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


The Robert Lustig You Tube video cited above by anadem is a particularly damning look at how the body metabolizes sugar. A bit hair raising actually. Jaw dropping, you might say.
posted by WinstonJulia at 2:07 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Absolutely jawbreaking, he deserves a 100 grand payday for that talk. I've been caught twix the two sides on this debate, but with the way he sold me on this he should work on 5th Avenue. He smashed the other side like an atomic fireball. The needed regulations might gum up the works, but there are just so many mounds of evidence that you would have to fudge the facts to disagree. There isn't a better doctor in the whole milky way, he is one hell of a lifesaver. At this point the only response people should have to the pro-sugar side is a bunch of snickers.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:21 AM on March 28, 2016 [13 favorites]


Sweet comment, Drinky Die!
posted by TedW at 3:59 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


We have lots of substances that are sweet, but the American obsession against unearned pleasure means they have to be bad or at least low class.

I don't find consuming aspertame, sucralose or (especially) stevia to be pleasurable, unearned it earned. They all taste gross and bitter to me. I actually know very few people for whom stevia is a tolerable taste.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:31 AM on March 28, 2016 [8 favorites]


"Sugar doesn't work like that. There's no such thing as secondhand sugar. "

Clearly you've never sat at breakfast next to someone huffing beignets.
posted by xris at 4:44 AM on March 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


What about sugar substitutes? They are more dangerous than sugar itself.
posted by korpe4r at 4:48 AM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]



Clearly you've never sat at breakfast next to someone huffing beignets.


And I wasn't even hungry until that comment
posted by thivaia at 5:33 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sweet comment, Drinky Die!
posted by TedW


I see what you did this.
posted by Fizz at 5:55 AM on March 28, 2016


Can we please purge the Puritans from the Left now?

This seems like it's coming more from that intersection of the Right and Left that loathes obese people, lack of discipline, and the thought of poor people enjoying anything than any puritans on the Left. Bloomberg types, in other words.

But some level of sugar consumption is absolutely necessary for survival, isn't it? Sugar's a weird case where, yeah, maybe you can get addicted to it, but total abstinence isn't really an option for anybody. It really keenly illustrates the need for a more supple, thoughtful, and nuanced understanding of what addiction is and how to break unhealthy addictive behavioral patterns without being puritanical and absolutist in line with the conventional twelve-step program models.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:09 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


We need to end the subsidies of foods linked to health issues, like corn, soy, and wheat. I donno if there is a good way to define calories vs nutrition to levee a tax on added sugar. I'd rather honey did not get taxed because really stationary bee hive installations should be subsidized.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:28 AM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


We need to end the subsidies of foods linked to health issues, like corn, soy, and wheat.

Yeah, let the poor people pay more for...our most essential staple crops.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:39 AM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Conservatives were already frothing at the mouth over Michelle Obama's promotion of healthy school lunches.

I would have said more eye rolling than frothing. A quick search shows National Review objected to the cost. Others point out that the cost stuff was unappetizing and not being eaten anyway (cf Jamie Oliver). You may know other sources.

The machinations of sugar biz in the US is actually pretty interesting. One monopoly crushed back in the late 19th century only to be replaced in the second half. Whether there is a tie-in with Obama's recent trip to Cuba is an interesting un-asked question.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:03 AM on March 28, 2016


Food and drug policy should be a demand-side example for the world to see. (I note that forcefully putting an apple on a student tray, which exponentially raises the likelihood they will throw it away in the trash, is supply-side and wasteful). Whole foods need no taxes and are the likely the best source of nutrition and healthy lifestyle, and most waste can be fed to animals or composted. Processed foods can be easily taxed according to its packaged content, which should include things like flour, sugar, or questionable preservatives, and even disposal fees for the trash and waste. So by raising the price of processed foods, we also raise the demand for whole foods.
posted by Brian B. at 7:25 AM on March 28, 2016


Or you just place a tax on people who do not have the time, skill or means to prepare whole foods. (Spoiler: two of those three categories of deficit are most likely caused by poverty.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:48 AM on March 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


Food manufacturers add sugar to food because it is a super cheap and all-natural way to boost flavor, especially if you are aiming for a low-fat product.

To me, at least part of the point of a sugar tax is to change the above equation so that manufacturers will think twice about dumping sugar into food to enhance flavor and drive sales.

The tax won't work in a vacuum though, as the manufacturers' likely response would be to create more artificial flavor-enhancers which are just as bad for you as sugar.

Affordability issues aside, the only way I can see to avoid the sugar and chemical additives of processed foods is to stop eating processed foods (avoid the middle aisles of the supermarket). I don't know what the political action should be, but that's where I'd like to see policy efforts focused.
posted by mantecol at 7:55 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


So...the fact that the human body requires sugar to survive?

But some level of sugar consumption is absolutely necessary for survival, isn't it?

No. Your body will happily manufacture simple sugars from complex carbohydrates like starches.

And refined sugar was unknown in most parts of the world until the late middle ages. It's as much a product of human ingenuity as distilled alcohol.

Yes, outlawing the Big Gulp is ridiculous and obnoxious. But I don't think there's anything Puritanical about taxing these products so their retail cost reflects the long term costs to society in health care etc.
posted by mubba at 8:33 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am pretty pissed off that I have to pay a sugar tax for my diet cola that contains no sugar and people who eat buttloads of sugar from non-soda sources pay nothing at all.
posted by srboisvert at 8:50 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


What about sugar substitutes? They are more dangerous than sugar itself.

According to Dr. Gwyneth Paltrow!
posted by srboisvert at 8:52 AM on March 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


So...the fact that the human body requires sugar to survive?

But some level of sugar consumption is absolutely necessary for survival, isn't it?


Biochemically speaking that is not correct, in that while humans need carbohydrates of some kind to burn for energy, (i.e. table sugar, starches, glucose, pyruvate, etc), human metabolism can convert other metabolic molecules, like certain amino acids/proteins, into carbohydrates. This is why the Atkins diet is not fatal.

Note that you cannot metabolize by acetyl-CoA and beta-oxidation of lipids fats alone. Sadly, humans lack the enzymatic machinery to convert fat into sugar. Evolution was cruel in this respect.
posted by aperturescientist at 9:19 AM on March 28, 2016


Argh. I'm fine with using taxes and other financial instruments to encourage healthier diets (though with the consideration of not making it a burden for lower-income people.) But damn if 90 percent of the time it doesn't come wrapped in the woo of "sugar is toxic!" and bad science. Sugar, salt, fat, they all have the same problem -- we are wired to love them because they were valuable nutrients when most of our dietary instincts were set down. And now we can get all we want and it's not always good for us. Why can't people stick with that instead of the moralistic woo?
posted by tavella at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


I am pretty pissed off that I have to pay a sugar tax for my diet cola that contains no sugar and people who eat buttloads of sugar from non-soda sources pay nothing at all.

And I'd be pissed if I had to pay a hefty road-maintainance tax (used to be taken care of by gas taxes, but then everyone switched to electric and that's how they resolved the lack of funds) even though I don't own a car. I'd be pissed, but I'd pay such a tax - because electric cars are a good start that will hopefully end in a near-carless mass-transit utopia.

A soda tax might be a good start that will end in a healthier, diabetes-free utopia; tax sodas (a prime offender) first, then other 'non-soda' sources.
posted by eclectist at 9:39 AM on March 28, 2016


A sugar tax would put the Girl Scouts straight out of business. Liberals show no limit when it comes to hate.
posted by waving at 10:05 AM on March 28, 2016


And I'd be pissed if I had to pay a hefty road-maintainance tax (used to be taken care of by gas taxes, but then everyone switched to electric and that's how they resolved the lack of funds) even though I don't own a car. I'd be pissed, but I'd pay such a tax - because electric cars are a good start that will hopefully end in a near-carless mass-transit utopia.

Car tax derail: There are other approaches to 'taxing everyone' - tax based on millage. Or perhaps simply on electric charge station consumption. There are also arguments in favor of making mass transit free to encourage its use (and then using a general tax to pay for that) - in some places it costs more to collect fees for mass transit use than the fees actually earn (as mass transit is already subsidized).
posted by el io at 10:05 AM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


So...the fact that the human body requires sugar to survive? And doesn't require tobacco?


Yea but they're talking about the wrong kind of sugar. The stuff that ~naturally~ occurs is completely different than evillll "refined" sugar, and your body can tell the difference! It's like that scale from willy wonka, but the wrong kind goes straight to your ass.

No, but seriously. Talk to someone willing to bend reality about this kind of stuff for more than a few minutes and they'll start going on about the different types of sugar that are arbitrarily completely different. Sometimes it's even certain foods, where it naturally occurs, being different from others. No added sweetener juice that still has an absurd amount of "natural" sugar is often somehow held up as So Much Better.

The entire thing gives me a fucking headache.
posted by emptythought at 10:36 AM on March 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


Or you just place a tax on people who do not have the time, skill or means to prepare whole foods. (Spoiler: two of those three categories of deficit are most likely caused by poverty.)

Nothing says that whole foods, prepared, can't be tax free either, or even subsidized by the processed food tax. Poverty is related to both disease and junk food intake, leading to diabetes, heart conditions, etc. And it's not just diseases to discourage, but environmental problems, such as over-fishing, herbicides, etc.
posted by Brian B. at 10:53 AM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


The entire thing gives me a fucking headache.

That's the toxins.
posted by Etrigan at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2016



Nothing says that whole foods, prepared, can't be tax free either, or even subsidized by the processed food tax.


I think you're using a different definition of processed food, then. Looking up on the web I found a few definitions, including:
Processed foods aren't just microwave meals and other ready meals. The term 'processed food' applies to any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way, either for safety reasons or convenience.

and

Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs
before it’s available for us to eat. It can be as simple as
freezing or drying food to preserve nutrients and freshness,
or as complex as formulating a frozen meal with the right
balance of nutrients and ingredients.


In general, "processed food" seems to be commonly used to mean anything other than raw ingredients, so any prepared whole food is by definition processed food.
posted by thefoxgod at 11:15 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


The real underlying issue here is that many foods are engineered to spur compulsive eating, just like tobacco and menthol, or slot machines. Overt scientific Dopamine manipulation as a business plan should quite obviously be classified an atrocity; a crime against humanity.

Lots of folks like to talk about the many costs of fixing the US healthcare system, but you could start by tossing away the FDA, as captured a regulatory agency of there ever was one.

Furthermore, the food industry deserves to pay some sort of massive recompense for whats taken place. If big tobacco was ultimately held liable for massive health costs attached to disease they stalled on for decades while they well knew their product to be a major cause of costly disease, then a national system optimized on price and engineered to be addictive to compulsive eaters (straight out of big tobacco's playbook, see menthol) well then I think I just found a nice way to fund the first few years at least of a national single payer health plan and stipends to the legions of displaced healthcare workers.

Pure and wholsesome Girl Scouts selling the absolute junkiest quality cookies is the perfect illustration of the perversity that has become the food production complex. Trans fats, HFCS, preserved for years with all manner of chemicals and adjutants. You literally couldn't make a less healthy cookie than they hawk each year in some passive-aggressive Americana camouflaged marketing fund raiser.
posted by Fupped Duck at 11:51 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


No. Your body will happily manufacture simple sugars from complex carbohydrates like starches.

Well, yeah, but that's sugar. So this is only refined sugar we're talking about. Not sugar.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


I largely agree with you... But... It makes a ton of sense, in my mind, to regulate the direction of advertisements towards children (which the industry was certainly doing, and still does outside of the US; where it's allowed to). It also makes a ton of sense to have large public health information campaigns

Oh, heck yeah, both of those things are very, very important, both campaigns for educating the public about the health effects of sugar and I would say an outright ban on targeting ads at children.

And as a sugar lover, I'm pretty pissed that I have to buy expensive specialty soda if I want real cane sugar - and I blame the subsidizing of corn for this bullshit.

Yes! I'm sorry, I'm coming off as really mad, but in the end all I really want out of all of this, or just out of life, is strawberry-flavored Mexican sodas with cane sugar.
posted by branduno at 2:24 PM on March 28, 2016


After some more consideration, I realize that we have been missing something big here. Cannabis legalization has been incredibly successful in Washington and Colorado. More states are sure to follow shortly. It won't be long before harder drugs become legally available, and that will put a lot of negative pressure on the various cartels. Think of the social chaos that will ensue when the cartels begin to layoff their heavily armed foot soldiers. Fortunately, we have an answer: merchants of illegal nose-candy will be able to shift over to black-market candy. Cartel employment will remain flat and might even grow a bit. Otherwise dangerous criminals will remain well employed, and the CIA will not have to worry about their black budget withering away.

(more seriously: I strongly dislike HFCS and prefer minimal sugar in my food and drinks. But I'm not prepared to force my food preferences on you, even if it might extend your life a few years. That's on you. Grow up)
posted by b1tr0t at 2:40 PM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


My friend took me to some trendy coffee place nearby and when I got my tea (since I don't drink coffee) I asked for sugar. They handed me a bowl of what looked very much like light brown sugar saying "We don't use sugar here. We use evaporated cane juice."

This is in tropical Australia. From my living room I look over sugar cane fields. It's a major export of our region. This cafe was literally less than a mile from the giant sugar refinery. What the hell kind of cane do these idiots think that stuff is evaporated from? How on earth do they think it's any different? I'm with the above poster who said I'm all for discussing the harmful effects of excessive sugar in Western diets and ways to mitigate it through taxes or whatever, but for the love of god let's get some real science involved in the conversation, because using "toxic" and "evaporated cane juice" and all that is making me 100% unwilling to listen to the anti-sugar people.
posted by olinerd at 2:56 PM on March 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yea but they're talking about the wrong kind of sugar. The stuff that ~naturally~ occurs is completely different than evillll "refined" sugar, and your body can tell the difference! It's like that scale from willy wonka, but the wrong kind goes straight to your ass.

This is exactly what pisses me off about this kind of thing. Yes, the body needs sugar (glucose) to survive, and yes, it will turn other kinds of food INTO sugar if necessary. But this whole "sugar is toxic", "sugar does the exact same thing as cocaine to your brain" bullshit is so ignorant. It's the same type of bullshit as the "there are too many chemicals in our food" brigade. People who have no understanding of science trying to pass themselves off as experts.

Does eating too much sugar have a negative effect on health? Of course it does. Is fruit evil because it contains HUGE amounts of sugar? IMO, no. Is sugar the latest EVIL FOOD THAT IS KILLING YOU because people want to make money off simple diet solutions? Yeah. I remember when it was fat.

Each a balanced diet, eat whole foods, eat a variety of things, stop food shaming all the people around you.
posted by threeturtles at 3:23 PM on March 28, 2016 [6 favorites]


In general, "processed food" seems to be commonly used to mean anything other than raw ingredients, so any prepared whole food is by definition processed food.

We're proposing to tax certain ingredients, by name, so the categories are a convenience for now. The point isn't to tax foods for being processed, but to tax those discouraged for health (or environmental) reasons because of their ingredients. It's not a useless distinction though (whole and prepared). A raw beet has sugar in it, so a soda maker may claim little difference between the two, which is why regulating an ingredient is a bad idea, but taxing its serving concentration achieves the goal.
posted by Brian B. at 3:30 PM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]



This stuff makes me nuts because focusing on one evil substance after another obscures the fact that people do pleasurable and comforting things (food, drugs, etc.) to excess in a compulsive manner because they are unhappy and often the focus on the ONE BAD THING OF NOW merely shifts them to something equally or even more harmful.

We've probably saved lives by shifting people from cigarettes to sugar— but we've certainly killed people by pushing them from Oxycontin to heroin or from marijuana to nearly anything else. If we want to reduce addictive behavior, it is far more productive to reduce poverty, inequality and child trauma. Those things are always bad— they exacerbate any type of addictive behavior and push people from being prone to mental illness into actual mental illness and from mental illness, often, into addiction on top of the other condition.

Of course, this would require a collective focus, rather than blaming people for addictive behavior and screaming about one moral panic after another. It would also require us to accept that extreme poverty and the stress of inequality (across *all* classes) are things we need to address.

But it's a lot easier to become the sugar police. This is not to say that "sin taxes" are always bad (they seem to work reasonably with alcohol and cigarettes), but it is absurd to think that this is going to stop the people who have the worst problems. In general, it often causes them more harm.

We're beginning to realize this with drugs (hence marijuana legalization and harm reduction for opioids) but it is very easy to just choose a new panic and ignore the real issues.

It is also the case that not all people *want* the longest possible life— some would prefer to have more pleasure in return for some risk and until the health patrol realizes this, their messages are going to be ignored by many of those they most want to reach. We need to accept that "health" is not the only value.
posted by Maias at 5:16 PM on March 28, 2016 [9 favorites]


So this is only refined sugar we're talking about. Not sugar.

Yeah, I thought that was clear. No one is talking about taxing oranges because it's possible to eat so many oranges that you get diabetes. At least, no one who isn't insane or arguing against straw men.
posted by mubba at 6:34 PM on March 28, 2016


What about orange juice? Orange drink?
posted by Drinky Die at 6:49 PM on March 28, 2016


but we've certainly killed people by pushing them from Oxycontin to heroin or from marijuana to nearly anything else.

Case in point, my marriage. I broke it because I switched from sometimes using weed as a non-physically addictive self-medication during periods of extreme stress and anxiety to using a legal alternative sold at all the convenience stores around my home that turned out to be hundreds of times more addictive. I've been off the stuff for years at this point but my relationships and life are still broken as a result in ways they never would have been if I hadn't thought the legal stuff would be a safer choice to avoid exposing my family to potential legal complications. Who knew the version sold legally at stores would be physically addictive? I knew to avoid physically addictive substances. Had no idea the (then) legally sanctioned imitation of weed would be one.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:04 PM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sorry to hear that. But I think we are close to being ready for sane drug policy in our country. Just another decade or so.



/sigh
posted by Drinky Die at 10:10 PM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think we are close to being ready for sane drug policy in our country.

I hope so. I lost my mom for most of my life to American moral panic/Puritanism over addiction, too.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:44 PM on March 28, 2016


What about orange juice? Orange drink?

From Should We Tax Unhealthy Foods and Drinks (which I previously linked to above).

"Policy discussions usually focus on drinks containing added sugar, but natural sugars in juices and other beverages also pose health risks."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:33 AM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


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