Should We Impose an "Obesity Tax" on Soft Drinks?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Times are tough, and governments, like families, are having a hard time balancing their budgets. New York Gov. David Paterson this week unveiled a plan that would bring $404 million to the state, which is facing a $15 billion deficit this year and next.

As part of his $121 billion budget for 2009, the governor wants to enact an "obesity tax."

That is, he proposes a tax of about 15% on nondiet drinks, including soda and sugary drinks containing less than 70 percent fruit juice. Milk, real fruit juice, diet soda and bottled water would be exempt.

Some questions:

  1. Should the tax be called an "obesity tax"? Do you think it's a misnomer? Not everyone who drinks soda is obese, and not everyone who is obese drinks soda.
  2. Is this a tax you would support? Like other "vice" taxes, such as those on alcohol and tobacco, it only applies to people who indulge in sugary drinks.
  3. Public health officials say that taxes on sodas might help fight childhood obesity. Do you think that tactic will work?
  4. Others say the tax will only hurt the middle class, which is already struggling. What do you think?
  5. A family of four spends about $500 a year on soda, and with this tax, that would add $75 to the bill. As we already know soda is not nutritious, would that be enough to make your family cut back?

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DUMB!!!! I live in America.. You know, land of the FREE, home of the brave! We live in a free country. Why not tax Mcdonalds, Burger King, Pizza shops? For that matter, how about taxing anything we use sugar for, like cookies, popsicles, cakes, etc.? What about the people who do not even drink soda? We are never ever going to live in a "eat all the right foods, and watch your diet kind of world"! We never have. We are already being taxed for absolutely after thing else anyway. Report
I think that anything that has no real nutritional value should be taxed. That being said, there is this industry out there that will put some strange thing in all product to give it a nutritional value so it is a lose lose situation. Whatever they do, the taxes should be across the board. Like beer is taxed higher than wine and cigarettes taxed higher than pipe tobacco or cigars. These taxes are totally unfair. Poor people do not typically drink a decent bottle of wine nor do they smoke cigars. So why are taxes so much higher on the products that the poor are more likely to buy? It is like a double whammy! Report
This is nuts. Obesity Tax is definitely the wrong phrase. I was way overweight but never drink soda. Not even as a child. I would have rather a glass of milk. I might add though, that in Canada we already pay tax on pop and almost everything else except essential food items but I'm sure that's coming. Report
Yes, raising taxes has worked so well with cigarettes. Yeah, right. I don't think the government should regulate what people eat or drink. It sounds more like a punishment than anything else. Report
I think it's completely ridiculous and I do not drink soda often! Most diet drinks aren't any better in terms of nutrition. Instead of the tax, why not make fresh vegetables and fruit more affordable? Does it bother anyone, that you can feed a family of 4 a bag of fried onion rings for about $4; enough asparagus to feed that same family would be almost $9. Similar imbalance for healthier cuts of meat! Report
I think it entirely takes away from the idea that 'all things are fine in moderation.' I think it will do nothing to deter people from drinking soft drinks. And I don't think there is anything wrong with drinking them in moderation. I already buy generic when I buy them. I really don't pay any attention to the amount of tax I pay on groceries, to be honest. Report
I don't buy soda, but I'm not sure I would agree with an 'obesity tax'. Unless they want to increase taxes on all unhealthy items to make healthy food less expensive I'm not sure it really matters. Report
1. No, if enacted, it shouldn't be an "obesity" tax. I know too many people who drink regular soda and are slim and active. They just don't like the taste of artificial sweeteners and/or observe an organic diet.

2. I would not support this tax. The government doesn't have the right to regulate or punish people for what they choose to eat.

3. It's really a marginal benefit to kids. There are many sources of unhealthy foods and habits. Are we going to impose a surplus tax on all of them? And honestly, is it wise to try to force artificial sweetener on kids from an early age, anyway?

4 & 5. The amount of the tax wouldn't be enough to force most average families to cut back much or at all or particularly "hurt" the middle class. But a large cut back probably isn't the main objective (simply a stated one). The state needs to raise money (it is projecting over $400 million from this if I read right) and they won't raise it if the taxes are high enough to really push people to drink significantly less soda. Report
1. No, it should be called an environment tax or a public health tax. Sodas are crap with no nutritious value for people who aren't overweight, and all the throw away garbage it comes with makes it even worse.
2. Yes, even if we still occasionally drink a soda. Many families have replaced water or unsugared tea on the table with sodas, drinking almost their entire fluid intake in soda from toddler age and up. It's just terrible.
3. I really hope so.
4. Nah. No one in the middle class is forced to rely on soda, alternatives are both healthier and cheaper, so cutting back isn't taxing at all.
5. Absolutely. Unhealthy and expensive? Having it less and less. Report
I get really sick and tired of hearing people argue against taxes. They are a necessary evil - they keep our roads and traffic lights in shape, help keep quality programming in our schools, keep our streets safe with law enforcement, support the elderly, and many many more things. We ALL benefit from taxes. Are they going to go up? They have to. Maybe not over a soda pop, but we are now facing a huge deficit that is not going to go away without increasing taxes. PERIOD. It doesn't need to be a HUGE increase. Just like we are learning to make progress and lose weight with small daily baby steps on SparkPeople - we need a well-developed, carefully planned strategy to help us get out of the hole we are in with the deficit.

We got ourselves into this position with unethical quick-fixes and get-rich schemes of business men and women, and our own unethical quick-fix behaviors - plagiarizing papers, taking office equipment home for personal use (i.e. pens, printing personal documents, etc.)... and people talk in blogs exasperatingly about how everyone lies.

The bottom line is - taxes are here to stay, and you and I benefit on a daily basis by paying taxes. As for the deficit - we dug ourselves into this hole - and we will have to dig ourselves out - in a slow, carefully planned way, not in a slash our society to pieces way. We can't get ourselves out of this problem with the same thinking that got us into it, any more than we can lose weight by continuing to eat the way we have - nor by going on fad diets and extreme exercise programs. Taxes. Quit complaining. Report
Why not just tax the people that don't have any common sense and self control? Report
Honestly it would likely be the kick in the butt I'd need to stop drinking soda all together. So from a money generating point of view, it's not a sustainable, long-term solution but it would make a nice cash infusion. From a health point of view, I assume that others, like me, would quit drinking soda or in the very least cut back and that would improve the health in the country. In Canada, where I live, healthier people would mean less hard earned tax dollars needed to support the health care system. which eases off those funds further helping the gov't with national debt and provide more services and benefits for citizens. I'm not against this idea in the least and yes I am a daily coca-cola drinker. Report
this country is getting unbelievable who are they to tell us what to eat and what to drink is the communist russia Report
Tax the Soda and stop subsidizing corn for high-fructose corn syrup it's all no good. Report
Because of our out of control and ever-growing deficit, you know tax raises are inevitable. I hate the hidden increases the most- the fees, etc. that we face every day. At least a soda tax would be out in the open. That would be the nail in the coffin for me to stop drinking it completely. It is expensive enough already. Again, you know tax increases are inevitable. We just have to chose our poison. Report
An "obesity" tax or by any other name is wrong. The government needs to get out of the business of imposing taxes in order to change behavior. It is not the governments responsibility to regulate behavior. By the way, the government taxes the heck out of gas...and we don't stop buying it...and the price just keeps going up! Bad idea! Report
As stated in many of the post just keep the govrnment out of our lives. We are already over brdened wig taxes as to date and allowing this new tax only opens the door for the other stupid ass taxes of tomorrow.

I think that it is your choice and should not have to burden everyone with just abother way to line the coffers of our government that is already to freakin deep into our pockets and lives as it is. As for the name I would love to smack the taste out of the fools mouth that came up with that one. America turning into Britain and then you wonder why you have folks that seem to despise the actions of our current establishment. We need to concentrate on getting more money to the people and working on improving the economy. We need to get out of other countries affairs and focus on solving our own problems that plague us as a nation. As stated the guidelines for the standard would put most of us in the obese column. I work out and body build and. Don't fit the obese picture but by weight and height I fall in the range so I say it makes no sense and stay the hell out of my backyard! Report
even though all I drink now is water...I vote no... Report
I think it is not smart. People should not be taxed for what they eat or drink. It's just the governments way of getting more money out of people. Boooooo!!!!!! Report
I think the name of its ridiculous, like many have already stated, NOT everyone that drinks sodas are obese and vice versa. My husband buys his diet gingerale and he's not overweight at all, I don't drink diet sodas or regular sodas and I am still on my weight loss goals. If someone wants to drink soda, or eat junk food, smoke cigarettes, or drink beer they will find a way, and I don't see taxing them making a difference, especially people who are on government assistance or food stamps. Now that's what they should do, is make food stamps only for FOOD, not for sodas,candy and other garbage you can buy with it. Report
This is just an excuse to get more money out of people. It will not change peoples' attitude about what to drink or not drink. Some people only drink soda on special occasions such as a picnic or party, other people that drink soda are not overweight. It is just another government excuse to get their hand into our pocket! Report
although i agree with the government taxes us way to much and we really dont need more taxes but I personally rather have this tax in an attempt to get this country out of debt then have social security be taken away from us all together Report
Cigarettes are bad/soda is bad. Tax them both. It probably won't stop people from consuming it but hey it'll help with the gigantic health care problem.....(give that the tax). :) Report
Before finding SP, when I read articles like this I would furiously hoist myself onto my soapbox, spouting diatribe about "big brother" and "human rights". Now, I'm actually for it, though I really don't like the title "obesity tax". They tax the dickens out of cigarettes and alcohol...why not other (very obvious) unhealthy food? It's not taking away the right to eat's just making VERY sure that you think twice about it. It's almost like having a "swear jar" in your a "bad" thing, pay a little. I also think it might drive stores to offer more in the way of diet beverages...a HUGE pet peeve of mine, as I LOVE diet Barq's, and gas stations never seem to stock it!

Back to the title though...can we stop using the word "obese" in negative situations? Obesity is a medical condition...why don't we call the tax "Dental Rot Prevention Tax" or "Diabetic Coma Tax"...oh, wait...those are socially acceptable medical ailments.

End point is...I'm for it. And if it stimulates our economy in the process of making people healthier (and cutting into the "sugar pusher's" bottom line), all the better! Report
I don't allow soda in my house and haven't for years. I don't know why people waste their hard earned money on garbage. On a rare occasion, when we go to a restaurant, I allow the kids to order a root beer. Nothing more. Report
How about we stop subsidizing corn? That should effectively shoot up the cost of soda. Report
They should call it a "sugar tax", but I'm sure the lobbyists would have a field day with that. I think the governor is just trying to justify his job and the nice salary and benefits that he gets.
edited to add: The tax actually sounds like a good idea, but a big NO on the title. Then again, it is another bit of government micro-management that we don't need! Report
um, this is ridiculous to mne. I am tired of being taxed on everything! I live on a small pension and while I do not drink sodas and only buy them for special events lilke a Halloween party guests or such, I am really tired of all the taxes! Remind me the main reason for the Boston Tea Party and why we left british rule? Over taxation ring a bell? I support myself and two kids on a small pension... all these added taxes everywhere I turn are hard on everyone sure, but more so some than others.... Report
I agree with the idea, if you have decided that certain things are not necessary for survival, like alcohol and cigarettes and well at least in my country both come with their own additional tax. Then why not tax pop as well? I do think that calling it the obesity tax is a bit much. Cause one could argue that this tax should be applied to all things that are considered that is stretching it a bit far. It should be called something to what it is relating to like soda pop tax or non-fruit juice tax. Not as catchy but more to the point. Report
The tax is a good idea but calling it the obese tax is not such a good idea. Report
I am definitely not in favor of a tax. How ridiculous! I agree with the person who believes positive reinforcement is better! Give people tax breaks or benefit based on being healthy and eating healthy! Why does everything have to be about taxing those who do. Report
Some insurance plans have you pay a higher premium if you are unhealthy. So if you purchase unhealthy food, you should pay more for it. It comes down to personal responsibility. I also think it should be itemized on a receipt so you would have to see how much you are paying in "fat" tax. It might open some eyes, and I think all soda should be included. Report
I like the tax break for healthy eating. Unfortunately many people consuming poor quality foods are also poor. A tax break helps only those who pay taxes. How about a tax credit for fruit and vegetable consumers. Also, would tax breaks for small local farmers producing quality fruits and vegetables allow for lower costs for consumers? Report
Instead of imposing a tax on unhealthy food, give americans a tax break for eating healthy!!!! Report
If you want to reduce obesity then taxing food will hurt those who aren't obese too. Report
how about doubling the bottle deposit? Report
I agree with Nickhvh. If people will pay almost $8 bucks a pack in certain areas for a pack of smokes, that they know will do them harm, I don't think you can charge enough to stop people from destroying themselves. Thx Report
I love getting facials. If my state's government imposed a spa tax, I'd still get facials, even though I don't need them. If I'm still determined to spend money on something I don't need, and the government has a legitimate interest in regulating it, sure, I might complain about the tax, but c'est la vie. I'd rather pay a spa tax than suffer a cut in the services I us such as public transportation, public parks, etc.
It's the same thing with sugary drinks. In fact, sugary drinks may be a more compelling case, because of the health risks involved. If someone knows consuming a lot of sugar is bad for them, and could lead to Type 2 diabetes, and they still choose to consume the same amount of soda, then maybe it's better that they pay a few cents more for their drinks rather than be excluded from Medicare or from receiving disability checks in the future.
I also eyeroll at people who claim that eating healthy is more expensive. At my supermarket, an apple is the same price as a Hershey bar. At the markets I frequent, a bottle of Poland Spring costs the same as a bottle of soda. Weight Watchers Smart Ones frozen meals cost the same as Banquet dinners. Sure, there's some healthy stuff that's expensive. But if you really make the effort, I think you'd realize that complaining that it's too "expensive" to eat healthy is really just an excuse to not eat healthy. Report
I don't really drink pop but Good Lord!!! When will this stop! an obesity tax??? are u serious! talk about a slap in the face Report
Are sodas already taxed in NY? I live in Iowa where there is no sales tax on grocery items but certain things are exempt from no sales tax. Some of those things being soda pop and precooked foods (like rotisserie chicken). It has been this way for as long as I can remember. It seems to me that Iowa has already decided that soda is not an essential grocery item. How is what the NY governor wants to do any different than what this state has been doing for decades? Is it simply the name of the of the tax? I'll admit the name is quite stupid but the fact is these states that are so far in debt will have to make up the gap somehow. You can either pay higher income tax across the board or pay higher taxes on non-essentials such as sodas & other sugary soft drinks. NO MORE TAXES is simply not an option so in my opinion this tax is one of the better options. That way if I don't want to pay the tax I simply don't consume soda. If I feel I can afford a few extra pennies this week for a 12 pack of pop that's my choice, or not. I see it as a win/win. The state makes some additional revenue on those who choose to pay extra and I am not forced to pay a tax I don't want to pay. Report
Instead of using tax money to subsidise the production of sugar and taxing its consumption, it seems more straightforward to reduce the subsidies by an equivalent amount to the tax revenues desired. That way we don't have to pay to administer both subsidy programs and tax collection activity. Report
This idea is rude, disrespectful and downright mean! To call it an obesity tax is discrimitory and against constitutional rights! It totally infuriates me. Lets put bigger taxes on alcohol. Maybe he would miss his coctails. Slim people are entitled to drink soda's without being told they are obese because they drank a soda! We have certain unalienable rights rather we are obese, to thin or just right. Thats as bad as deciding taxes by the color of your skin. I am really furious with the thought.. Report
people who already drink a lot of soda willl continue to do so, tax or not but maybe if the price of healthy beverages were lower, parents will be able to afford to start their kids on 100% fruit juice, etc.. Report
If you want to tax soft drinks then tax it but to call it the obesity tax...come let's get real it's not just soft drinks that make people overweight. Report
We know that too much consumption is bad. The kids and our fellow Americans are getting more unhealthly. A little tax, just like gas, and alcohol, will not stop it but stem the flow, maybe. Report
I don't really drink a whole lot of soda... (eh hem... I mean pop).. and when I DO drink it, it's usually Diet anyway, so it's not like it would affect me. But still, this is simply a ridiculous idea. Any time something like this comes up, I always think of that movie "Demolition Man". Anyone seen it? Is that where we're headed? A culture that makes anything and EVERYthing bad for you illegal? Sure it's not illegal... yet.

That's just plain not right. And also, I don't have the documentation to back this up at the moment, but I've heard from many dietitians that diet soda is actually worse for your weight than regular sugar-filled soda. (Unless of course you're diabetic. Which is why I personally drink Diet pop on the rare occasion that I actually DO drink it.) So what does this solve? Nothing at all.

And the name "obesity tax" is utterly appalling. Why not just charge overweight people more money at restaurants while they're at it? Sheesh. Report
First of all, the name is ridiculous. Secondly, while I agree with taxing alcohol and tobacco, I don't necessarily agree with taxing non-diet drinks....while that may be hypocritical, it's my opinion. Probably because I don't smoke and don't regularly consume alcohol. However, I don't drink non-diet sodas either.

Smoking can lead to emphysema and cancer. Alcohol can lead to liver damage and impair driving and judgement. An overconsumption of soda could, I suppose, help contribute to obesity but only if there are other factors involved as well. Does the person drinking the soda also overeat or eat unhealthily? Not exercise? Smoking, alone, can lead to cancer. Drinking alcohol, alone, can lead to alcoholism, liver damage, etc. Drinking non-diet soda, alone, does not lead to obesity.

I think this is one of the most stupid taxes I have ever heard of. Hey, how about a stupid Ideas tax .....Anyone with a stupid idea, WE TAX THEM.... Does anyone think that would stop Stuped ideas? NOT Report
Instead of taxing the people who are barely getting by why don't we tax the corporations who are rolling in our hard earned dough!!! Report
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