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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I don't think any system that seeks to punish will work. why not encourage people to be healthier by offering some kind of incentives? taxing won't do anything, but cause people to use more of their disposable income on vices. I'm more inclined to 'right' if someone encourages rather than discourages. Report
I echo all the outraged comments here. More taxes are not the answer!

And remember, those people making 8 or 9 figures (of which I certainly am NOT) are the people who create jobs in this country - as selfish as they may be or appear to be. Tax them too much, and they can and certainly will close up shop and move to the Carribean, not owning you another penny of income. Oh, yeah! That's already happening, what with all the offshoring that's threatening my own job. Report
Here's an idea: Why not give the people making 8 or 9 figures + a year a mandatory pay cut and use THAT to cover the national deficit instead of continuing to tax the working class to death? Does anybody really need a couple hundred million dollars a year when so many of us are struggling just for five figures? Then we have to pay it out in these stupid soda taxes and flatulence taxes and whatever garbage they come up with next.

If I remember correctly, this country was STARTED because we were TIRED of these ludicrous, pointless taxes that leave their people struggling to survive. Report
i think it's really sad that the government cant find better ways to tax us to death.......we drink what we can afford to drink in most aspects and with milk at 3 and 4 dollars a gallon on average, orange juice, and healthy drinks ranging the's no wonder why so many people have opted to drink what is unhealthy for them........they are left with basicly no choice to stay within their budget. Go to the grocery store and watch what others are buying like i have done, you will see carts with $75 % of their purchase being ramen noodle soups, and any other canned soup that is loaded with sodium, you will see their carts filled with mac and cheese, chef boyardi, the cheapest meat that is available (usually whatever is on sale at the cheapest price) and you will see in just about every cart 2 liters and cans filled with you know why. Because, no one is making what they should be making in this country to be able to afford healthy foods. I am single and dont have kids, my drink lineup consists of 2.5 cups of coffee in the morning, 6 glasses of water throughout the day, a pepsi, for my 2 hour drive home from work, and then 2 - 3 more glasses of water prior to going to bed each night. 1 12oz can of pepsi per day is not going to kill me.......instead of increasing all of these taxes how about they mandate the lowering of the prices we pay for organic foods, and healthy foods so we can actually afford to eat nutritiously rather than starve, or eat unhealthy just to make ends meat.

This is how screwed up Corporate America is because of Greed and how screwed up our Government is because, they are letting Corporate America get away with overpricing items that should be cheaper than processed foods. Yet because, no one has the financial ability except the rich to buy what is nutritious for their families we as the middle class are the ones who are being effected by this because, we cant afford to make the changes necessary without starving for half of the month. Report
Taxing refined sugar is a great idea in ANY state due to the amount of money it would save taxpayers in the long run. Taxpayers are currently paying ALOT for those who are qualifying for disability and increasing what would ordinarily be lower medicare/medicaid bills due to excessive junkfood consumption.
Ending on a more postive thought. I'm redesigning my obesity tax resolution to be more specific. I've been nutrition tracking for the past three months only and notice how I am "in the red" when it comes to consuming fat grams.

12/31 Balance 1577-1004 1138

MY UPDATED 2009 New Years "fat tax" resollution is the following: In the year 2009, I will donate $1.00 to the organization Overeaters Anonymous for each "extra" gram of fat that I consume. This tax may actually cure me of consuming too many fat grams!

What I disagree with is the title "obesity tax" since it suggests that it is targeting a certain group of people of which I am currently a member. A more appropriate title would be "refined sugar tax" since it is really aimed at products instead of people. Ending on a positive note, this blog gave me an idea for a 209 New year's resolution. I will impose a "token" obesity tax upon myself. Although I normally contribute $1.00 a week when attending a local Overeaters Anonymous meeting, instead I will contribute $1.52 to reflect that I am still currently 52% overweight. This tax will be adjusted according to my monthly weigh-ins and might reinforce a more sober attitude towards my weight loss progress. Report
I think it would be a good idea! though pop is already getting more expense I do think it would keep some people from drinking it. and you don't NEED to drink soda so I don't see why it isn't taxed Report
great. more legislation on moral issues. sigh Report
I think if they start taxing soda it will just pave the path to taxing everything else. I mean if they did, it would make me think twice on buying it, but how about people lower prices of the healthier stuff and we would be more inclined to buy it!! A lot of people don't eat very healthy just because the healthier foods always cost more than junk food. Take fast food places.. if you want to try the healthier options, a salad alone cost more than a combo meal full of fat and calories and it won't even include a drink. Report
Obesity tax is ridiculous because there is no way you can legislate morals or good parenting skills. My weight is not a result of soft drinks it is simply poor choices on my part, so are they going to tax me for my bad decisions? Report
Wow, the soft drink companies must have a terrible lobbyist! Why pick on soft drinks? How about potato chips and other unhealthy fried snack foods (tax the fried ones, and don't tax the baked ones)? I'm living in the south--if they taxed sweet tea and not unsweet tea (our versions of iced tea), you'd see a Savannah Tea Party that would put the Boston Tea Party to shame! Report
tax boxed macaroni and cheese and chicken nugget producers and kraft foods and keebler too(after all food is SOOOO cheap right now)And while we are at it, bananas and pineapples and watermelon are high in is corn!!!let's tax them too!!! Report
These stupid morality taxes are just another excuse to spend money and not budget like the rest of us do. Besides, I don't know what business it is of the government if I drink diet or sugar soft drinks. If I drink water, will I get a refund? Report
Hahaha! That is kinda weird, but honestly I don't care one way or the other...I don't drink soda! Report
NO MORE TAXES!!! We are supposed to be in a free country, they have committed us to things we can not afford for there own personal gain and now we are going to have to pay for it or move out of state Report
I can't tell you how angry "obesity tax" makes me feel. Some people are not able to lose enough weight to not be obese, even if they don't drink soda. If you have never been in those shoes, you can't judge.
Tax the people who make sodas and advertise their products to make us want them. They can pay the taxes, raise the prices, and everyone will be happy. Maybe it would even encourage them to produce things that are better for us, since those would be exempt from this tax.
How about taxing bread that is more white flour than whole grain? They sell it for cheaper and people buy it to save money. How about sugary cereals? Go after the big companies and see what kind of changes we can see.
Discrimination comes in many forms, this is just another way to discriminate against the people who don't look the way the elite think they should look. I would fight this tax tooth and nail and I don't even drink soda anymore. Report
Please keep the government out of my life. A major cost of obesity is the increased cost of health care. So let the grossly obese bear a larger share in the cost of health care through increased premium rates. It would be a personal motivation to adopt some healthy habits and would relate directly to the source of the costs. The obese individual should have to pay the increased premium, not his or her employer.

Since the definition of obesity is 25% or more over one's ideal weight, that would include a lot of people. Parents may start to teach their children that "No" is not a bad word. Just say "No" to so much fat and sugar. Report
This seems kind of crazy. It won't affect the obese people. They will do it anyway. Kind of like the smokers. No matter what they charge them they continue to buy. Report
It will never one wants to be called out as Obese. I'm just educating my kids (who love pop) that it has High Fructose Corn Syrup, which they are now looking for on labels. A better idea? Take the soda machines out of schools (doesn't help with taxes... but helps the kids!) Report
Out of all the taxes that Gov. Paterson proposed, this and the ones on movie and concert tickets made me the most angry. "Obesity tax"? Come on. Such a name is tantamount to saying that everyone who drinks soda is an out-of-control, unhealthy, overweight person, which is just NOT TRUE. As far as making people, it will not work. Taxes on cigarettes haven't made smokers quit smoking; taxing soda will not make soda lovers and caffeine addicts stop drinking soda. It will, as this entry suggests, only hurt the people who enjoy soda as a treat.

What's next? "Fatass tax" on chocolate? "Hyper tax" on sugary cereal? "Self-mutilation" tax on body piercings? It doesn't take much of a mental leap to see how far an idea like this could be taken. New Yorkers are already taxed out the wazoo. It's time for the government to start being more responsible with OUR money, rather than soaking us more for ridiculous things like this. Report
I do think that this is ridiculous. At some point people have to take responsibility for their actions and their choices, right, wrong or otherwise. It's one thing to make sure that people have all of the information available so that they're making choices that are right for them (like adding calorie counts to restaurant menus in NY), but it's another thing to penalize people for making choices that someone else deems 'wrong'.
As I'm writing this, I realize that the same 'rule' would apply to taxes on cigarettes, but for some reason that didn't bother me as much as the soda stuff, maybe this is hitting closer to home! :)

I'm not really on board with this tax, though I think we need to address the serious issue of childhood obesity. I dont think this is the answer. Instead we should address he high fructose sugar issue as well as the sugary cereals with advertising focused on kids. Another thing that needs addressing is the cutbacks on physical education classes in schools and of course the lack of exercise out kids get. Report
This country is no longer a country of freedom. I think it is getting worse. The government is moving into place to "decide" for us about more and more. Just that alone makes me against this. We as a people should be able to make daily decisions and take the responsibility for them. The government seems to be teaching us that people are stupid and they know better. Report
I think the tax idea is a bad idea! People will find a way to get what they want no matter how much they have to pay.
I gave up soda long ago. If people want to drink it - it is their choice. Labeling something an obesity tax is insulting and demoralizing.

They should do away with "vice" taxes and like someone below me mentioned- healthy lifestyle credits. I think a positive would work better than a negative.
Off topic, but I don't smoke, never have - everyone else in my family smokes. I think they've taken the non-smoking thing to extremes. There has to be a balance in all this, somehow.
Again, though, I do like the healthy lifestyle credits idea. I think if people were encouraged, they would go for that. Report
I think "obesity tax" is an insulting name for a tax.
The tax would not stop people from consuming these products. There are other unhealthy foods out there, are they going to tax these as well.
Here in Canada, we pay 2 taxes on Soda and junk food, but it doesn't stop people from buying it. Report
I am not a heavy soda pop drinker but I don't think it's a good idea to had another tax to it, or even to give this tax a name, labelling drinkers. (Where would this money go to). I think people should be warned of the effect of soda on their health in the long term. Imposing a tax will not reduce the effect of these chemicals in the human body. This is what I think. Report
I'm tired of taxes. I think the anwser is education, education, education. Report
This idea didn't work well with heavy taxes on tobacco. It required changing advertising aimed young people and education. It won't have much effect on soda drinking habits either. People will complain and SAY that they are going to quit buying it but ultimately their habits will not change.

Time for another Boston Tea Party? No taxation without representation! Report
Benjieeta, if the soda companies are taxed, they'll just pass along the expense to us. We'd still end up paying more.

I don't really care for the idea of a obesity tax. It's very expensive to eat a healthy idea, and the people who would really suffer for such a tax would be the folks who depend on bad food just to eat.

It would be awesome, however, if an obesity tax was issued in conjunction with a "fit food credit." Report
I don't believe in selective taxing. Why should some things be taxed and others not. Diet soda is no guarantee that we will not be obese. I have drank diet soda forever and I have a weight problem. What is next? Butter, bread or candy. Why not tax the fast food industry instead. Big Macs, Whoppers and supersizing is more of a problem than the poor soda is. Report
I don't think taxing those items is going to help. Self control and consuming these items in moderation is the answer. Report
I think that an obesity tax should be imposed for all non healthy items. This will not only help educate people on which foods are deemed unhealthy, but I think it will help people realize how much food or beverages they consume that are not healthy for them. Some people do not realize how much bad stuff they put into their body. Report
It has already been said; not everyone who drinks soda is fat and not everyone who is fat drinks soda. What next? a potato chip tax? a cookie tax? Maybe the governor would like to require a prescription for chocolate - it has both sugar and caffine. The governor is behind the times as far as health is concerned. No reputable diets ban anything - they just say keep it in moderation within an otherwise healthy food plan.

I just read an article that said that not allowing soda to be sold in schools did not reduce the amount of soda that the teens drank. If vice taxes worked no one would be smoking. If you haven't seen smokers outside of buildings lately it is only because they were required to move farther away from the building - check the bus stop.

The government should look into enforcing existing taxes. They need to stop giving tax breaks to big business. They need to close up the loop holes for the rich. They need to stop spending money on stupid things like memorials to each other along with the other "pork barrel spending". Check your wallet first and stay out of mine.

I say YES. Putting more of a tax on things that are bad for you is more than acceptable. All of the facts are known about how soda affects a person. Same goes for cigarettes or alchohol. I am for taxing more any of the items that have a bad affect on the body. This society needs to PRO-gress not REgress. To save our auto industry or our housing market imposing a tax such as this - I say...GO FOR IT!!! But, I would not put the phrase "Obesity Tax"...that has too many derogatory conotations. Dont put a derogatory label on something that is meant to be a positive change with positive side effects. I would completely support this tax though. I also think that it would twart the rise of childhood obesity somewhat. But, on the same token, people have to make a lifestyle change NOT just soda.... It would not damage the middle class really in my opinion. People can find substitutes and if they dont WANT to stubstitute, than they pay the tax... its that simple... The lasting economic impact would be well worth it though.... We have to tax something to get us out of the financial mess...why not soda/sugar drinks? Report
I have to agree with the statement below me even though it is somewhat funny. I think it is ridiculous how we are taxed and it has to STOP. The only way a person will stop eating or drinking something is if THEY want to stop. Report
They should mind their own business. We are taxed enough. If you want to tax something, tax stupidity. then the politicians will pay have to their share of the load. People should be able to manage their own lives and not have any interference by government or do gooders. What will be next? Report
Oh yeah, that would be cool, but somehow I don't think it would do...just look at cig.s Report
I do not really know what to think of this.I know this is a different subject,but I have seen milk pried differently due to the fat content.You pay more for whole milk than skim milk. Where did that come from?? I think it may be a good idea to pay more for Sugar-If its only a few cents- People will drink what they want. Report
I think that we drink to much soda as a nation. I wont say that my family doesn't do it as much as any other. However i think that if they tax it more, then we might cut back more..... But, with that said.... a lot of people are not over weight that drink it, and maybe they don't need to cut back... It's a hard choice, but i think it would help a lot of people cut back on how much they drink ... Report
Absolutely not. The States are already taxing soda and Juices that aren't 100% real. Not all families drink soda and not all families can afford the higher priced 100% real fruit juices so they are already getting shafted. Report
Additional taxes and educational campaigns have been very helpful in reducing the number of smokers in this country to date.

Attacking the unnecessary aid to massproducing corn farms (ones who do it for subsidies, not for family business) to help raise the cost of HFCS along with "sin taxes" for sugary marketed-as-juices-icky-stuff, sodas, and other cheap horrible foods would get closer to the root of the problem. Companies will attempt to relabel, reclassify, and minorly tweak their products to get under thresholds for taxes, but every little wiggle towards not being glaringly terrible products helps in the long run. We can't expect companies to self-regulate with the health of the consumers placed above profit margins, historically that has never happened, and if you look back to the eras where the US has been close to the Reaganomics dream of almost-laissez's-faire policies people were dying of a thousand different poisonings at once. Taxes and heightened enforcement from oversight committees and regulatory bodies actually doing their job would help reign in a lot of the food quality problems in the US, but people will cry about taxes being a violation of their human rights until the hormonally overloaded cows come home even while they are benefiting financially, and physically, from "socialist nannystate" policies.

If the US actually had regulations that forced companies to eat into US profit margins by being told to produce products for the US market with the same sodium/sugar/sat.fat levels that aren't illegal in the other industrialized nations that they already distribute in/produce for things would be a lot better for the average US consumer. If they chose to continue to produce dangerous products then they should be forced to run educational campaigns on their dime to help off-set the damage done when people don't know any better.

Seriously, major US manufacturers already produce quality consumable goods for EU and other foreign markets to step into line with healthy food guidelines every other industrialized nation has to ensure their people are not being fed slop and they shill substandard sugar laden goods to the US because no one in a high enough position calls them on it. Report
I am saddened to see money spent routinely on soda pop that could go for "real" food that is nourishing. Many, many working poor continue to purchase cans of pop which is even less economical than the 2 liter bottles.

As to an extra tax on it?
Certainly there are already way too many taxes that we each pay. Report
Maybe someone already proposed this (I don't have time to read all 284 comments) but why not tax the PRODUCERS of sodas? After all, they are the only ones making any profit from the whole mess. Report
This is an outrage!!! Bottom line, there's a higher percentage of this country that is financial suffering than there is the rich (Just known fact). With that in mind, the only one's who would suffer from this is the middle and lower class. These are the majority of people who can not afford to buy the high priced nutritional food items. Some of us have given our children fast foods or kid cuisines at one point of time. We as a country are in a finacial bind. We can't afford to allow the government to keep draining us. Because once bills like this are allowed to pass, there is no end to what they may come up with next. "Air tax" to support the filtering of dirty air. "Walking tax" to support a campainge against bad joints and bones. "Driving tax" to support failing automotive businesses. What is next??? This isn't about being obest or unhealthy. Because the government can care less. They get their money from pharmacutical companies selling these drugs that don't help. This is about the all mighty dollar, plain and simple!!! Report
Sure why not? We love taxes. Report
This is too stupid and as a public health professional I can tell you that it will not stop people from drinking soda. Alcohol and cigarettes are taxed and people still use them. I think he's miscontruing the data on why there is a decrease in people drinking and smoking to fit his own agenda. If he is so concerned with childhood obesity maybe he should remove unhealthy foods from school cafeterias and stop kissing the restaurants industries but. Or, schools could make sure kids have recess and gym periods so that they can exercise and sit around all day in school. There are many causes for obesity and it's not just drinking too much soda. I think everyone will a BMI of at least 25 in New York should storm is office and protest.

This is the same stupidity behind the airlines wanting to tax obese people and Southwest charming overweight people for two seats.

This is a blatant violation of our civil rights. Report
I can see a ptential problem with this. How exactly can the government enforce it? Some items might be considered too close. For example, there are hot chocolate mixes and "lite" hot chocolate mixes. A person wants the lite but because they are so similar, they get the regular. Boom! There's the tax!!

I applaud the government for trying to come up with different ways to bring down the deficit. But I don't think this particular will work. Report
I don't care for soda's but think the goverment needs to butt out!!!! The FAT-CATS in DC have an obese pocketbook that has been fed by the poor working person Report
Should we then tas any food that can cause weight gain? Candy, chocolate, fried foods, breads, ice cream, any sugars? The list can be endless. People need to step up and take responsibility for the choices they make. We dont' drink pop, but we drink juice - is that just as bad? Our dentist thinks so, so then do we tax juice?
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