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Tax Sugary Drinks?

Bacchus, of course, was the Roman god of partying. Then it’s appropriate, perhaps, that the eponymous Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who released his health-care plan yesterday, didn’t include a tax on sugary drinks, the consumption of which contributes to most of my weekends -- but also to obesity, diabetes, early death and all sorts of other nasty and expensive things.

But as he and the rest of his colleagues continue to fight over legislative language, they may want to give the idea another look.

Libertarians will see this as yet another encroachment of the nanny state, which tips the scales against things we all find fun in favor of what’s good for us. Cigarettes are already going to be regulated to near oblivion. Now they’re going to take away my Coke? On cue, Coke CEO Muhtar Kent yesterday took advantage of that sentiment, comparing the sugary drink tax to Soviet central planning.

I can’t get quite so animated. There are social costs that people like my mother, who drinks something like a liter of Coke every day, exact on those who don’t have such habits, which show up in medical costs, among other places. It’s only fair to make those social costs explicit in the price of such products and to devote some of the proceeds to paying for health care. A cent-per-ounce tax -- which a group of policymakers, doctors and other advocates proposed in a New England Journal of Medicine paper yesterday -- would raise an estimated $15 billion in its first year and could nudge Americans to change their piggish diets. Even if it didn’t do the latter, at least it’d be a step toward having those responsible pay their fair share.

Earlier today, my colleague Chuck Lane also suggested to me that lawmakers could make the sugary drink tax higher and dismantle the federal government’s wasteful trade protections and price guarantees for domestic sugar producers, which amount to a tax on consumers of sugary goods, except that the proceeds go to a small group of private individuals. That’s even better. Politically difficult, I admit. But much more attractive policy than what we have now.

Update: Commenter buster5 makes an excellent point about corn subsidies. Lots of sugary drinks contain corn syrup. If we removed subsidies, prices of goods that contain it would rise naturally. And the government would save money. So, yes, let’s get rid of corn subsidies, too. Still, doing so would not eliminate the appeal of a separate tax on sugary drinks, as plain sugar would become an attractive substitute for once-cheap corn syrup if the price of the latter increased a certain amount -- and particularly if Congress takes my advice on removing sugar protections, which would lower that commodity’s price.

In the vein of other comments, I should also note that targeting sugary drinks alone probably isn’t the most efficient way to make the social costs of obesity, diabetes, etc. explicit in the prices of the goods that contribute to them, as it does so for just one class of products. Yet it is a class that we know plays a huge role in the problem, and a broader tax on sugar or some kind of obesity tax (not that I favor either, particularly the latter) is even less politically feasible.

By Stephen Stromberg  | September 17, 2009; 4:29 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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It makes too much sense - it'll never pass the sorry excuse we have for a Congress. No Republican would propose it, no southern representative or Senator would support it, and any Democrat who touched it would be labeled a "socialist" who only wants to dictate what people drink (despite the fact that we already tax lots of other items).

Meanwhile, the waistline of the country continues to expand....

Posted by: Marcus3 | September 18, 2009 12:50 AM | Report abuse

Taxing sugary drinks to combat obesity is like taxing red sports cars to slow global warming. There are a million ways to ruin your health, soda is only one. The answer is to make obesity expensive. Pay by the pound health insurance.
And before you say "its not my fault I am fat", obesity was almost unheard of two hundred years ago. So no it is not genetic. Genes take much longer to change than 200 years, lets hope health care policy evolves a little quicker because this sugar tax idea is pure Neanderthal.
Dan Fenyvesi M.S., R.D.

Posted by: dfenyvesi | September 18, 2009 1:36 AM | Report abuse

Add a tax for potato chips and candy bars, too... 10 or 20 cents for a soda or bag of chips would add up fast, and also get the lard assess who ingest way too much of this stuff and who tax our heath care system to pay in some of what they take.
If you eat an occasional candy bar or have an occasional soda, it won't be enough to show on your financial radar.
Too bad congress is so in the pocket of the snack food and beverage lobby to exercise some common sense and do something so obvious and good.

Posted by: jeffc6578 | September 18, 2009 1:43 AM | Report abuse

Get the junk food and junk drinks out of schools, at least. Remove them from the vending machines and offer something more nutritious--Dasani, diet bottled tea, Power Bars, that kind of stuff is relatively OK.

Kids should not be ingesting so much high fructose corn syrup. Soft drinks, fries, and burgers--a deadly combination. We are seeing 10-year-olds with pot bellies and love handles, something relatively rare even 30 years ago.

Require some kind of physical activity in the schools as well. This is not an infringement of freedom--it's preventative medicine so that we won't have to pay for diabetes and hypertension in millions more people.

Posted by: ttraub | September 18, 2009 2:37 AM | Report abuse

How about taxing stupidity offered up by members of Congress? It won't raise much money but at least it may change their behavior.

More people have been hurt by stupid governmental actions than by sugary drinks.

Of course, I wash down my trans fats with sugary drinks on a daily basis.

Posted by: berniesilverman | September 18, 2009 3:04 AM | Report abuse

The only problem is this does not go far enough. We know overweight people impose social costs on the rest of us. Thus, the government should set a standard for everyone's optimum weight. Everyone will be regularly weighed by the government and those over their optimum weight will pay extra taxes, to compensate the rest of us for their extra "social costs."

Since this might not work in forcing everyone to act as our betters believe we should, we need to crack down on the lack of exercise as well. The government will create a standard for optimum exercise, and regularly monitor everyone to determine if he or she is properly exercising. Those not properly exercising will have to pay extra taxes, to pay for those extra "social costs" they are imposing on those of us who do exercise enough. Or perhaps we should just have mandatory exercise requirements, say a morning physical workout monitored by enlightened government bureaucrats. You may think this is administratively difficult, but there is a book called "1984" which lays out nicely how all this can be easily achieved.

Posted by: woocane | September 18, 2009 3:19 AM | Report abuse

Ah, we're headed down the slippery slope. It goes like this:

1) Free Health Care is a *HUMAN RIGHT*!
2) Therefore the government (aka the last few of us paying taxes) must pay for it
3) But, some people use it more than others because they smoke, drink, eat too much, etc.
4) Therefore, they're stealing from the government
5) And that's bad, so we'll force them to eat and drink the right way.

Wouldn't it be better to charge people more who use health care more? Oh no, that would be too sensible.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | September 18, 2009 5:03 AM | Report abuse

"consumption of which contributes to... obesity, diabetes, early death and all sorts of other nasty and expensive things."

Hey, you know what else contributes to those things? Not exercising. You know what else contributes (statistically) to an early death? Driving a car.

I never considered myself a libertarian, but I'm getting pushed there by people like Stromberg, deciding to punish people for engaging in certain habits over others. How about we punish people for risky sex next? Motorcycling!!! Oh, heck no! No rock climbing either, or horseback riding. Those are waaay too risky- statistically speaking.

As a non-smoking man, I still got perturbed by the way the government lets smoking be legal, but decides to make money off of it by saying its dangerous. As a reasonably athletic guy, I still get worried by all the obesity hysteria. Now I'm downright angry by this so-called 'obesity tax' on soda. What? Soda does not make you obese, not any more than a ham sandwich. Eating a whole heckofaLOT of soda might- but that's not we're talking about here.

Your right to pay less money toward insurance should not trump other people's right to live their lives a certain way. Yes, people are costing you money, you pennypinching whiner- but that's the whole point of large-scale insurance. We ALL cost each other money.

I ride a motorcycle. I take safety courses, wear a helmet, and have never had a crash. Nevertheless, I realize that this increases the chances I will be injured. Guess what? I don't want you or my esteemed representative deciding that I should be dissuaded from doing that because it might cost them something. How about you, sir? Do you ride a car? Well, you better be willing to get health-taxed on it, because it's one of the leading causes of death.

And by the way, what about heart disease? Coke ain't the only thing that causes it. So does genetics. So if your family has some heart disease in it, should you get taxed for that? Why not, if your goal is to try and make sure no one has to pay for anyone else's risks.

But then, if you don't want anyone to pay for anyone else's risks, what on earth is the point of insurance?

Keep your grubby, greedy itemizing hands away from my Coke. And my mother's cigarettes. And my friends cheetos. Nuts... I really hate the idea of being a libertarian, but someone has to balance out all the people like Stromberg here who want to take away positive freedoms (i.e. I am free to do X) in order to try and protect negative ones (I should not have to pay for Y).

This is not Soviet Russia, "yummy-beverage tax" or not. But I'm wondering what country it is, when we keep shrinking what we're allowed to do without getting taxed for our behavior.

I'll be waiting for Mr. Stromberg to suggest taxes on families with genetic diseases and car drivers... the only way to show he's not a hypocrite as long as he keeps playing this statistical risk argument.

Posted by: ihatelogins | September 18, 2009 6:02 AM | Report abuse

okay, no more tea parties, now soda parties.

Why stop at drinks, let's have a Dunkin Donut tax

Let's put cameras in everyone's house so if a pie or cake is baked every slice eaten is taxed.

Actually why have any food at all, we can all get nutrition and vitamins we need intravenously. There would be no need to eat at all.

Posted by: kathymac1 | September 18, 2009 7:08 AM | Report abuse

Another thing, why in the world would you think any tax money from this would go to health care??? Like the social security money stayed in the social security fund,god you all are naive!!!!

Posted by: kathymac1 | September 18, 2009 7:11 AM | Report abuse

subsidize sugar farmers... tax sugar consumers.... What circle of hell is this?

Posted by: Stelly | September 18, 2009 7:27 AM | Report abuse

I'll bet they will be dumb enough to tax the diet sodas, too. I remember when there was a supposed sugar shortage (which turned out to be bogus) and industry raised the price of the sugared drinks, they raised the price of the diet drinks, too. Then when the "shortage was over", they never lowered the price back. Congress and industry are "shocked" at why the public has become so cynical.

Posted by: Georgetowner1 | September 18, 2009 7:31 AM | Report abuse

They have maxed out on cigarettes Taxwise.

They are going to have to find more things to tax.

Sugary drinks this year.

Fatty foods next year.

Then foods that are too processed.

Then foods that are not organic.

The goal:

To make everyday foods cost as much as organic, free-range, fair-trade, etc. food.

And to help fund Obama's multi-trillion dollar, medical, free-for-all.

Posted by: battleground51 | September 18, 2009 7:35 AM | Report abuse

"eponymous" !!!???

What the hell is eponymous about Max Baucus's name? Listen you nincompoop. Use words appropriately instead of trying to sound erudite by using words that you clearly don't understand, but sound cool. JERK!

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | September 18, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Stromberg makes good senses.

Republicans prefer broken infrastructure, poverty and instead giving their money to insurance, credit card companies and those other corporations that have been sticking it to Americans for the last 100 years.

Brain dead republicans!

Posted by: m1kem1lls | September 18, 2009 8:13 AM | Report abuse

You can drink the soda and eat the cookies without being fat. Many people do.

It would make much more sense to tax fat people directly. After all, it doesn't make much difference how you got fat. Even if your excess weight is due to organic carrots, you're still fat.

The IRS could weigh everyone on April 15th, and send out the bills. As for you overweight kids, there'll be no deduction or tax credit for your parents.

This would reduce obesity drastically, and collect some additional revenue as well!

Posted by: vinyl1 | September 18, 2009 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Not all pop has sugar--I drink a couple of cans a day--but haven't bought "sugar pop" in twenty years--so from my perspective they can tax sugar pop to their heart's content--but leave diet pop alone--why would anybody want 200 extra calories just to quench their thirst???

Posted by: Skerns0301 | September 18, 2009 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Here's a tongue in cheek solution to the obesity, poverty, healthcare, and many other problems in America.

Death Matches.

At the 10 year and 20 year points in a person's life, they are required to go one on one in a fight to the death. So at 10 years old, all the fat, slow, handicapped, or stupid kids get weeded out. Then at 20 years we do a double elimination, everyone takes the SAT. The top 50% get a by on the death match, and the bottom 50% have to pair up and fight to the death.

And just to make things fair, when we implement this program, everyone in the United States will have to qualify.

Instant population control. 50% reduction in the population will eliminate unemployment, homelessness, almost eliminate welfare needs, energy requirements for the country would be halved. I guarrantee that in a few generations, we'll all be a lot healthier, and smarter than we are now.

Posted by: mhoust | September 18, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

A tax on sugary drinks won't work because it is too dispersed. People, especially fat people, will pay ten cents extra to buy a pop. If you want to fight obesity, you should charge them more for health care. For example, you could charge $10 a pound per month more for every pound a person is overweight. That hits the person hard at once and makes it clear what the charge is for. Plus, I have to admit, I am skinny because I workout and I resent having to pay a tax because I want a snack. That seems really unfair.

Posted by: columbiaheights | September 18, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

This is a terrible idea. Once the government taxes something, it becomes addicted to the money and dependent upon people continuing to used the taxed item. Look at tobacco. We fund a big part of children's health insurance with a tobacco tax. What if people do the healthy thing and stop smoking? The government is left scrambling for a new way to get the cash. If you want to tax something for being unhealthy, the only legitimate use for the taxes collected is to go toward ending the use of the substance (for example--tobacco tax going for smoking cessastion and lung cancer programs). The government exists only to do what we cannot do for ourselves. And guess what? We CAN choose what to drink by ourselves without big brother looking over our shoulder. Sodas contain fewer calories than milkshakes, brownies or alcoholic beverages. It is scary for the government to get even more into behavior control than it already is.

Posted by: sam38 | September 18, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Two points: first, if we stopped subsidizing corn, the cost of these sugary drinks might go up without a tax. Part of the reasons these drinks are cheap is that we spend billions getting people to grow corn which makes corn syrup really really cheap. Second, I have 1-2 cokes a day and am not overweight. Why have an indirect tax on obesity that charges even those who are not overweight? A direct one, i.e., charging people more for insurance if they are overweight or obese (or smoke) seems more fair. Don't people pay more for life insurance based on these conditions? Those standards should apply to health insurance as well.

NO taxation on carbonation!

Posted by: buster5 | September 18, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Among the least healthy people in the country are those who don't pay for their own food. Take a look at all the unwholesome stuff you can get for free, courtesy of the Food Stamp program: candy, snack chips and soft drinks are all considered "food". Adults getting Food Stamps have, in general, the worst eating habits -- which they naturally pass on to their kids (along with the notion that the government has to pay, for as long as you live). We need a new definition of "food", at least food you can get for free...

Posted by: joesphoto1 | September 18, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, don't insult my intelligence by telling me that the legislation would be to help 'fight obesity', Congress. Same with taxing cigarettes, it's all BS. At least call it revenue-collecting as you should...

Posted by: Comunista | September 18, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Juice has more sugar than soda, tax that. And milk has more calories, why not tax milk instead. Food also causes obesity. Why not just tax all food.

Taxing soda will not decrease consumption. We tax alcohol, and it is still consumed liberally. I'm very skeptical of these silver bullet solutions (tax fast food, tax soda, eliminate trans fat). Even if people consumed less soda, they will just consume their extra calories some place else (e.g., candy, juice, snacks). People's caloric intake is not going to change because you take away one option. They just eat something or drink something else.

There are thousands of behaviors that raise your health risks and theoretically raise health care costs. Do you know that working night shifts increases your risk of breast cancer? Should we tax that as well? At the end of the day, almost everyone does something that puts them at higher risk for some disease or condition. Are we going to tax them all? Inform people of ther risks, and let them make their own decisions.

Posted by: cliffmerrell | September 18, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Here's an idea to save lots of health care money -- impose an impossibly high tax on people who have more than, say, two children. Then society won't have to pay for the health care of all those new people who won't be being born. What? Too intrusive? Takes away freedom? Yup. Forced sterilization for those who refuse to comply. If you feed your kids soda, or cake, or are genetically predisposed to be heavy, well you're gonna need a permit to have kids. Why not? It'll save money.

Posted by: kriseddy11 | September 18, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Yes, yes, yes! But the tax should be on the corporation that produces "food products" that have no nutritional value, including candy, cereal, soda, snacks, packaged mixes (cake, pudding, drinks, etc.) Anything that is sold with sugar, corn syrup, salt, sodium, etc. Business wants the market place to work, so let it. Let consumers decide if they want to add salt, sugar, hydrogenated oils and the like. The market for hydrogenated oils and additives will really take off!

Posted by: TeddyRoosevelt | September 18, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I support the concept of taxing soft drinks in the same way that liquour is already taxed. However, the tax should be used as part of the overall health care reform package to help pay for universal insurance. Don't try to sell it as an anti-obesity panacea. Having said that, though, the devil is in the details. As some folks have rightly pointed out, some "healthy" stuff like fruit juices are also loaded with sugar. And what about diet drinks? Do you tax them because people who drink them may also drink the sugar stuff if they can't get diet? And then what about all the other processed foods that have loads of sugar in them? I think maybe this idea has some merit, but maybe the pitch should be to tax sugar itself. I know, I know, then the sugar lobby will rise up in righteous indignation. They'll argue that the domestic sugar industry is teetering on the brink, and a new tax would drive them into the ground. But, virtually everyone agrees that too much sugar is just bad.

Posted by: ebtnut | September 18, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Taxing sugary drinks is government picking winners and losers - there'd be no incentive to have a "healthier" or lite soft drink and would only encourage manufacturers to pump out more high-sugar energy drinks. It would be an unfair tax on soft drinks while leaving so many other targets (ie. ice cream, potato chips, chocolate bars).

A better solution would be to target high fructose corn syrup, which is a key ingredient in soft drinks, ice cream, chocolate bars and many others. The Government currently subsidises high fructose corn syrup to keep food costs down. Reducing or terminating the subsidy would be a de facto tax increase on unhealthy products--actually, for my libertarian-minded friends, it would allow the free market to price corn and corn syrup.

Posted by: scadolph | September 18, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Let's do an eye test when people are young and tax them more because I don't wear glasses. Then...let's tax people who like to ski, skateboard and rollerskate becasue they cause more injuries than anything. Then...we'll get rid of all high-performance vehicles and make the max speed limit 35mph...because I don't want to pay extra for that guy who gets in a car accident.

Sodas make us unhealthy. What a load of excriment.

Posted by: byte1 | September 18, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

YES -And put FLOTUS out there to get it done.

No one gets addicted to skiing, skateboarding and roller-skating.

Posted by: Capsheaf | September 18, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

This is not an easy issue, not for me anyway.
It can be argued, considering motorcyclists
wearing or not wearing helmuts, or laws for seatbelts, that since any resultant injuries
add generally to the higher costs of all of us, that we have a right to impose such restrictions of helmuts and seatbelts. On the other hand, if we as a society allowed people not to observe such restrictions, and sign a waiver that they are on their own in the event of accident ( leaving aside for the moment the practical difficulties of such a course of action)
meaning that any costs will not be picked up by society- then perhaps the resultant additional injuries can be justified by a general principle that maximizing people's freedom of choice is the best policy. However, we as a society, rightly or wrongly, have shown generally in practice that we would not allow people the freedom to sign such waivers.
But its not like the Federal government is not already intimately involved in penalties and rewards of behaviors ,whether its corn subsidies, tobacco taxes, or a million other more indirect ways.
As far as a tax on sugary drinks, the more general question is to what extent should the government be involved in the food choices of people, and, more generally,the lifestyles/behavior of people that bears on their overall health. I recommend the book Nudge for a discussion of the design of choice architectures by the government which don't limit freedom as much as help "nudge" people towards better decisions in
their lives.

Posted by: steveandjanereed1 | September 18, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

the new theory about taxing is simple - "its for our own good." it is marxist to tax the people until there is nothing left to tax, and only the government will have the money to keeps its people living large.

Posted by: infantry11b4faus | September 18, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Yes, tax sugary drinks, chips, etc. Extra tax revenue and good for people's health.

Posted by: LifeBeforePrinciple | September 18, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

"There are social costs that people like my mother, who drinks something like a liter of Coke every day, exact on those who don’t have such habits, which show up in medical costs, among other places. It’s only fair to make those social costs explicit in the price of such products and to devote some of the proceeds to paying for health care."

This is all very well and good if you look at ALL of the eating habits that produce disease. But everyone here is ignoring the one that may have the biggest impact of all: eating animal products.

Vast quantities of scientific research over the past 10-15 years have been showing causal relationships between the consumption of animal protein and the development of several cancers (most notably prostate, breast, and ovarian), heart disease, and stroke.

And --surprise! -- these results are being seen particularly among non-obese people who eat large quantities of meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy.

This research is coming from reputable universities and serious scientists; it's being published in mainstream medical journals; and, of course, it's being suppressed by the meat and dairy industries (in much the same way as Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola would like to do) which have formidable lobbying entities on the payroll.

It's utterly useless to tax one category of foods when Americans are routinely wolfing down more dangerous substances every day and believing they're eating healthfully. Until the federal government is willing to stand up to Big Agriculture and educate its citizens about the dangers of animal proteins, we're going to continue to be inundated with the costs of medical treatment for all the Americans who fall ill as a result of government-supported food choices.

So, folks, back off on the "don't make me pay for others' obesity" rhetoric. Rarely are solutions to complex problems as simple as you all want this one to be. All Americans need to be reeducated about nutritional choices -- not just the select few who are easy to identify because of their size.

Posted by: kjohnson3 | September 18, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

The most obnoxious ad has been running on NYC TV--this long-suffering wife and mother-type starts huffing about the economy, how hard it's hit "regular, working Americans," and how the soda tax "may be pennies to you but it's a lot to us." Enough with the self-righteous, "working American" cr*p--we're ALL working Americans. And lady, if the $.02 or whatever tax on this is going to hit you THAT hard, maybe you should stop buying so much cr*p for your family.

I cannot possibly see how this tax, on a NON-essential food item that has ZERO nutritional value, could possibly be a problem. We already tax alcohol, what's the difference? I don't drink sodas but I do drink alcohol, and well, that's just part of the price.

Posted by: NYC123 | September 18, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Once again, people propose taxes that will hit the poor in a disproportionately high number and others cheer.

Posted by: Fabrisse | September 18, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Alcohol is taxed rather than banned because Prohibition was a disaster. The modern drug war is a disaster too. It's logically inconsistent to operate a drug war, have legal bars, a cigarette tax, and tax-free junk food. All of them are bad for you, and the use of them induces costs not just to the individual but to the rest of society. Carbon emission and more broadly all pollution have societal costs, too. Why not just make our regulations logical and treat them all the same way? Legalize as applicable and tax them all. It raises revenue to combat the deficit, gets otherwise law-abiding people out of jail and being productive in society, frees the cops to chase real criminals, makes us healthier, and provides an efficient way for society to steer the behavior of individuals through economic disincentives. If the consensus becomes that a particular societal-cost tax is too onerous and impinges too much on individual freedoms, lowering it will be a winning campaign promise. If the societal costs are too great, raising the tax will be the winner.

Posted by: hayesap8 | September 18, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm so sick of listening to the rationalizations for govt. to conduct behavior modification and social engineering on Americans through taxation. The very same people who want govt. to change someone else's behavior (or body!), are the first ones to squawk when it comes to their right to have an abortion, have unprotected anonymous sex, frequent prostitutes, enjoy recreational drugs, lower the age for consensual sex or drink themselves into oblivion.
Enough is enough!
Leave us all alone to do with our lives as we see fit. Govt. needs to go on a diet and shed some pounds. They're crushing us from their enormous weight!

Posted by: Marrigan | September 18, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

We already tax cigarettes and liquor heavily, and rightly so. Yet habits like drinking large amounts of sugary sodas obviously affect the health of the nation adversely and add to our health insurance premiums. Since we desperately need revenue for health care reform, why don't we put a modest tax on all commerical items that can be proved scientifically to be a detriment to the nation's health?

Posted by: DWSouthern | September 18, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

It's not sugar cane sugar that's the problem.

It's aspartame, or NutraSweet, which is toxic:

It's not sugar cane sugar that's the problem.

It's corn syrup. Your body doesn't process it the way it does other sugars.

The FDA should begin a massive review of all food ingredients, free of lobbyist intervention. Aspartame was never truly vetted by any FDA process, it was passed as a favor to the head of Searle, Donald Rumsfeld, by then President Reagan.

I wonder if the message that bothers most opponents of health care reform is the one that you should take more responsibility for what you ingest?

The Washington Post can lead the media in a reasoned and well-researched manner on these and other food additives.

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | September 18, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the idea that it is a bit silly for the government to cherry pick one unhealthy product to tax. I do like the idea of imposing a tax on all products containing high fructose corn syrup. This tax would be more fair, and would provide an incentive for food producers to decrease their use of the unhealthy ingredient and incentive for consumers to decrease their consumption.

And if it helps get us out of our deficit, it could be a win-win.

It does somewhat annoy me when the same people who continually squawk about the deficit and deficit spending oppose pretty much any kind of new tax. Alternatively, we could cut the military budget, which is unnecessarily huge, but the war hawks would oppose that too. You can't have it both ways.

Posted by: mjm67 | September 18, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

The solution is to have the FDA set minimum standards for packaged products to be labeled as foods.
Standards would measure protein,fat and sugar content. Any product not meeting the standard would be taxed as a non food product.

Posted by: knjincvc | September 18, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Do you plan to tax fruit juice, which is LOADED with sugar, albeit natural? When people switch to water will you then tax bottled water because it's in a plastic bottle?

Posted by: negee99 | September 18, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I think that there is some confusion over the term "sugary" and the commodity "sugar." The obesity that has become a very American problem is precisely because we do not use sugar to sweeten our sodas--we use high fructose corn syrup. Other countries that use sugar do not experience the same levels of obesity, and there is a large corpus of literature that supports a causal relationship between high fructose corn syrup and obesity. Thus, your friend Chuck Lane's point on trade protectionism is correct, but the commodity to which it pertains is not.

Posted by: sm2258 | September 18, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Tax high fructose corn syrup instead of just soda. That stuff is everywhere and it's like plutonium for your metabolism.

Posted by: alarico | September 18, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

We should focus on the fact that the government is again going to impose additional taxes. It is not important what it is for. They have an unquenchable thirst for our money; they have to continue dreaming up ways to sell us a bill of goods based on solving some new major crisis. If you like being taxed, go ahead and sign up for their newest cause. They could also tax sunshine based on the fact if you get too much it can cause skin cancer and impose a cost on everyone else. When is enough enough?

Posted by: jlsmith5 | September 18, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

This tax idea points out the clulessness of americans about why they are obese, The reason is inactivity. Our weight gain as a nation began shortly after the invention of the automobile. I can't see us banning cars but employers should be given incentives to keep their employees in shape(i.e. Health clubs). Cities should designed to promote walking over driving.
I don't think we have even proven that our food consumption(long term) is even under our control. We would simply replace the calories from soda with something else.

Posted by: SoManyStars | September 18, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I honestly can't believe there are people who are out there supporting this ridiculous idea.

Yes, it's true. Overweight people are more of a health risk than people who are at their ideal body weight. And yes, it's true, in some cases, their health care costs can be a burden on others.

So, let's see.....

Well, people who have sex (particularly unprotected sex) with multiple partners are at a MUCH a greater health risk than those who are monogamous. Treatment for some sexually transmitted diseases, particularly AIDS, can be very burdensome on taxpayers. So, let's tax everyone who wants to have sex out of wedlock. A certain dollar amount per orgasm should suffice.

Wait, I know. Grilling your food often leads to the addition of carcinogens into the body. We all know that cancer treatment is tremendously expensive. We should tax everyone in America who owns a grill or accidentally burns their food while cooking. It will only require a few small video cameras in every household to keep us all honest.

Come to think of it, having a job can be very stressful. And we all know that stress is a leading contributor to the greatest killer of them all, heart disease.
We should levy a brand new tax on everyone in America who has a job. Call it the stress tax. That way, we can be sure that we are stuffing the government's pockets to pay for everyone's angina medication.

You people are crazy. And you wonder why people are out there outraged that some are trying to turn America into something unrecognizable.

Enough with the taxes. When government learns how to spend less money, that's when we'll be better off, not when the government tries to control our lives in order to fatten their coffers.

You support this, and you can rest assured that they're coming for something in your life next.

Posted by: etpietro | September 18, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Soda is government subsidized, in the form of farm subsidies. How? The main ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, which is the primary beneficiary of billions in farm subsidies each year.

So it makes sense that we should try to tax some of that, since politically we can't seem to kill farm subsidies.

Posted by: Hillman1 | September 18, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse

We are just a grazing herd of bovine imbecility, or a hungry flock of fainting goats, depending on which aspect the have-mores and their media stooges choose to exploit, gluttony or fear.

Expect this to be overblown with lies from the usual suspects, like taking away the bibles from hapless appalachia, or moving gay parents next door to you in Omaha.

Posted by: mot2win | September 18, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Please stop taxing me to make me do what you think I should. I am an adult and a father, and I'll take care of myself and my family without some wingnut in the DC metro area telling what is good for me. And if that wingnut is never hired, I won't have to pay for his/her sick days, vacation, or bloated pension. Also, if that wingnut isn't hired by the Feds, he/she will have to get a real job and then pay their taxes, which will ease the burden on everyone. See how it works? I can control my consumption of Coke by myself, thank you.

Posted by: GregJolysGhost | September 18, 2009 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Why stop at taxing drinks like Pepsi ( I'm surprised there's not already a tax on alcohol.

Posted by: jrj073000 | September 18, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Yes, we need to tax sugary drinks so we can continue to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, as well as continue to pay for the enforcement of the Patriot Act as well as the Emergency Economic Stablization Acts that cost over a trillion dollars since AIG, Goldman Sachs, and others need to get their fair share.

A lot has changed with Obama, hasn't it, dupes and fools? Well, if we had elected McCain you could have blamed it on the Republican Party, but let's just ignore it, and talk about stupid taxes because people are too lazy to get 4 lemons, a 1/2 gallon of water, and 8 packets of saccharine or Stevia or whatever.

Posted by: fuzzywzhe | September 19, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

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