Saturday, December 27, 2008

New York’s new “sin tax” on non diet soft drinks

It was neither unexpected nor unforeseen. All that was needed was an excuse and the current financial crisis provided the pretext needed by New York State Governor David Paterson to start the ball rolling. Faced with a projected $12.5 billion deficit next year, Paterson announced plans for a series of spending cuts and new taxes, including a new “obesity tax”.

A press release issued by the Governor’s office on December 16, 2008, confirms that New York will be among the first jurisdictions in the world to impose an obesity tax in the form of a tax on non-diet soft drinks. The new budget measure will add an 18 percent sales tax on non-diet soft drinks to “combat obesity and related diseases”, with revenues directed to health care. It is expected to generate revenue of over $400 million for the cash-strapped state government.

The new tax was first reported in the Sunday edition of the Times Union by James M. Odato.

But, it’s not the first time the issue has been raised over the last few years. Back in October, I reported on several initiatives to assail the obese and the overweight in the same way as they now do those who choose to smoke.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), for example, lobbied the Canadian government two years ago for a massive publicity campaign, “purchasing advertising space to promote nutrition, physical activity, and healthy body image messages on nationally televised TV and radio programs.” Also on their “things-to-do” list were taxes on unhealthful foods similar to those on tobacco.

According to CSPI, as many Canadians (25,000 to 47,000) die prematurely each year from “diet and inactivity related diseases” as die from smoking.

In Britain, a series of draconian measures have been considered, including a “fat quota” ration card for regulating individual food purchases to shipping overweight teens off to government-mandated fat camps and cigarette-style health warnings on cheese, butter and whole milk products.

And, the new obesity tax is not the first initiative launched to control obesity. New York is one of those states that have mandated “calorie counts” on restaurant menus. But, neither calorie counts on menus nor cigarette style health warnings on milk cartons are likely to reduce caloric intake to any great extent.

And, whether someone wants a soda, a bucketful of KFC or a Camel filter, they will not be deterred by a slight increase in taxes.

All the newest “sin tax” will do is allow the descent down the slippery slope to continue, with little opposition. Governments will feel free to impose penalties on lifestyle choices of which they, and the health scare fanatics, disapprove, with relative unpunity.

It will start slowly; seemingly minor and un-intrusive. Then, like the de-normalization of smokers, the penalties will gradually be incremented. How long before they’ll be taxing other “unhealthy” foods in an effort to encourage the overweight and obese to adopt a government approved lifestyle? How long before McDonald’s is printing health warnings on their food wrappers and soft drink containers?

Yeah. I know. It’ll never happen. And, smokers aren’t really being de-normalized through Draconian smoking bans and punitive levels of taxation and other efforts which turn them into second-class citizens. They’re simply being encouraged and helped to adopt a healthy lifestyle. All they have to do to stop the discrimination is kiss the collective ass of the anti-smoker brigade, do as they’re told and quit.

Maybe now those who laughed at the concept of a slippery slope, and ignored the warnings, will sit up and take notice.

But, then again, maybe they won’t.

Additional reading:
Canadians Against Government Encroachment (CAGE) commentary on CNN article by Gov. David Paterson promoting the new obesity tax.

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