Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Fat Tax is Back

The Fat Tax on sodas is rearing its ugly little head again.

A September 16, 2009 article in the New England Journal of Medicine posited the case for reducing the consumption of sugared beverages by taxing them. The proposed tax is one cent per ounce for any beverage with added caloric sweeteners of one gram of sugar per ounce. One of the authors is Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner.

In other words a 20 ounce coke will cost an additional 20 cents, and a six pack of soda 72 cents.

They calculate that the sugar tax/fat tax could generate $14.9 billion in taxes the first year alone with states reaping additional sums, such as California $1.8 billion, Texas $1.2 billion, and New York $937 million.

The politicians are salivating on a sugar high.

Forget the health benefits. The revenues would be manna from Heaven for starved politicians, unleashing a gusher of revenues. They would feed the insatiable appetites of politicians, just like the tobacco settlements a few years ago. The fat taxes might even partially fund the health reform proposals before Congress.

The tax would, of course, be highly regressive, just as most “sin” taxes are regressive.

The authors surveyed the literature, did the math, ran their formulas, crunched the numbers, and reached conclusions.

All wrong! Like a Jack in the box, the bad idea keeps bouncing up.

If the purpose is to channel consumers to diet and natural drinks, then it is ill-advised. A 2005 study reported a correlation between the consumption of diet sodas and weight gain. Indeed, almost all the weight gain was associated with diet sodas.

The theory is that diet versus non-diet sodas is not the issue. The critical constraint is what else is on the plate.

The theory is, of course, the tax will result in at least a reduction of sugar consumption, resulting in lowered body weights and reduced health risks for Americans.

So would increased exercise.

If their theory is correct, then let’s not stop with sodas. Let’s extend the tax to desserts, fast food restaurants, pizzerias, ice cream parlors, bars and taverns.

Let’s look at our basic eating habits, starting with breakfast and skipping to dessert after dinner.

For breakfast, we could start with a Belgium waffle or French toast, covered with Vermont Maple Syrup, ham and Wisconsin cheese, bagels or English muffins with cream cheese, Canadian bacon and eggs, Polish sausage, a Danish or other pastries, and Columbian coffee and cream. Breakfast cereals include Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Froot Loops, and Lucky Charms. Or we could go out to Starbucks or the ubiquitous Cambodian donut shop.

For the main meal, we could eat Mongolian beef, Spanish rice, Hungarian goulash, German bratwurst, Chicago deep dish pizza, Philadelphia cheese steaks, or Swedish meatballs, unless we are a poor student in which case macaroni and cheese or ramen are on the menu. The four basic food groups for freshmen are beer, pizza, burgers, and subs.

We can quench our thirst with California wines, Kentucky bourbon, Old Milwaukee Beer, or Irish coffees.

As we finish with dessert, let us contemplate apple pie with Washington Delicious Apples, ice cream, pie ala mode, cake, New York cheesecake, and a truly decadent sachet torte. How about seconds?

If the problem is excessive intake of sugar, calories, and also salt, then let us peruse a supermarket. Stroll a modern supermarket, walk the aisles, glance the shelves, and toss any proscribed, fatty foods out as well as salty foods, which raise blood pressure and led to consuming additional beverages.

Wait, they’re ubiquitous.

Crackers and cookies; creams and sauces, chips and dips, canned soups and frozen pizzas, frozen dinners, pastries and donuts, pasta, sodas and power drinks, sausages, hot dogs and Idaho potato French fries, salad dressings, candy and gum, and butter.

Check out the deli section. The potato salads, roast beef, pastrami, salami sing a siren cry for consumption.

As we toss the unhealthy foods, we realize no need exists any longer for supermarkets.

How about the family eating out? We can choose from Mac Donalds, Burger King, Wendys, Carl’s Jr., Hardees, Jack in the Box, Rallys, Arby’s, Checkers, Sonic, In and Out, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, Little Caesar, KFC, Chick Fil A, A & W, Baskin Robbins, Dairy Queen, Taco Bell.

If Commissioner Farley is serious, he could start by banning the Dove Bar carts from the streets of Manhattan.

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