Sin taxes: The choice of a new generation of fascist dictators.
A new report appearing in an American medical journal says the federal government is exploiting the nation’s so-called obesity ‘crisis’ to “extract more money from taxpayers and to expand government.” Additionally, the article’s authors note that nanny state bureaucrats have already failed in their attempts to meet self-imposed goals for reducing obesity, perhaps, because they are targeting food sources that pose no proven risk to Americans’ waistlines.
Michael L. Marlow, Ph.D. and Alden F. Shiers, Ph.D., both economists at California Polytechnic State University, write in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons that the federal government has erred in its decision to use “sin taxes” as its weapon of choice to win the war on obesity. The primary target of these sin taxes is sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), despite empirical studies that do not show a clear, if at all existent, link between SSBs and obesity, the authors state:
It is sheer folly to single out a specific food or beverage as the “cause of obesity” when common sense indicates that obesity is a product of genetics, hormones, food choice, exercise or lack thereof, and the basic equation: Calories consumed minus calories expended = weight gain or weight loss. If one eliminates soda pop from his diet, while consuming 10,000 calories per day and expending 1,000 calories per day in exercise, that individual will gain weight. Moreover, if government interventions somehow reduce soda consumption, it is likely that substitution will take place, such as eating more food or simply adding more sugar to home-brewed iced tea. Effects on weight are thus ambiguous at best.
Powering forward despite any solid or convincing empirical data to support their crusade against SSBs, many states are jumping on-board the “sin tax” bandwagon with the expectation that they can alter Americans’ eating and drinking habits by pricing soft drinks and junk food out of reach of cost-conscious consumers, namely low-income minorities that are the primary targets of nanny state anti-obesity initiatives. Those who can afford to pay more for so-called ‘unhealthy’ food and beverages, essentially, will be counted on to generate tax revenues that create and fund big government “public health” programs charged with telling citizens how and what to eat.
Marlow and Shiers oppose efforts by government officials to demonize sugar-sweetened beverages because empirical studies consistently fail to establish a relationship between SSBs and obesity. Any relationship that has been established between SSBs and obesity, they note, indicates a “correlation rather than a causation.” Despite this non-existent ’cause and effect’ relationship, the First Lady, Surgeon General and federal officials continue to demonize SSBs as the primary factor responsible for fueling the so-called obesity ‘epidemic.’
Keep in mind, when President George W. Bush said he knew that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and used that premise as a launching point to liberate Iraq, he landed himself in a heap of trouble for making policy decisions based on what critics decried was an erroneous assumption and extreme error in judgment. Lucky for the First Lady and her fellow big government anti-obesity crusaders, the harshest critics of President Bush are their biggest fans and supporters, so they should have no problem pulling our nation in to another costly battle against a ‘self-created’ enemy threat.
Data proving the effectiveness of SSB sin taxes on trimming Americans’ waistlines is “very scarce,” the authors note, just like evidence of WMDs in Iraq. One recent study, they note, “found that tax hikes on soda lowered adult BMI, but the magnitude of the effect was trivial. A one-percentage-point increase in the tax rate led to a decrease of only 0.003 BMI points. A childhood longitudinal study of young schoolchildren found no relationship between soda taxes and weight gain.”
“The idea of funneling ‘sin tax’ revenues into government programs to discourage unhealthy behavior has been tried with tobacco taxes,” reminisce the authors. “Roughly 10 percent of tobacco tax revenue flows into smoking-control programs—which are not very effective—and the rest is used for unrelated government programs.”
Nanny state bureaucrats are pitching their war on obesity as a mission of compassion to save American citizens from a threat they are being led to believe has rendered them helpless to combat without the helping hand of big government. Doctors and citizens alike “should be skeptical” of another round of big government intervention efforts as two recent federal initiatives to trim Americans’ waistlines failed to achieve their goals.
In November of 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “established ‘Healthy People’ goals of 15% or less for adult obesity and 5% for children and adolescents by 2010,” cite Marlow and Shiers. “Neither goal has been met.”
A decade later, Americans faced with high unemployment and a lousy economy are being conned in to believing that paying more taxes on sinful indulgences like Coca-Cola and Gatorade will prove to be the nail in the coffin for the obesity ‘epidemic’ that plagues them. Marlow and Shiers find that scenario hard for Americans to swallow, and even more difficult for the federal government to pull-off.
“We predict government intervention will make obesity worse as it crowds out market-based solutions that effectively tie weight loss to personal responsibility, higher wages, and lower insurance premiums,” conclude Marlow and Shiers. “The main effect of the campaign will be to extract more money from taxpayers and to expand government.”