To understand the heart of the sugary drinks taxation debate, we need to understand the heart of government’s’ anti-obesity initiatives.
If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now: politicians dislike obesity, and they’re willing to tax anything they can to reduce it.
I don’t believe obesity is automatically terrible. Because of this, it’s not a state interest which taxpayers should be obligated to help solve.
Some people willingly choose to have unhealthy diets and the obesity that comes with it. That’s fine. Some people would rather have a less sugary diet and put their body first. That’s fine. Some people are more moderate and try to limit their sugary intakes to certain days. That’s fine, too.
By this time, there’s hardly a single person out there who doesn’t realize obesity is bad for his or her health. If someone chooses to buy sugary drinks despite the clear risks, then what’s the big, Earth-shattering deal? Why tax a strictly personal decision regarding someone’s personal body?
Now, consider the times when it’s not a choice. The anti-obesity hysteria becomes a matter of shaming people for something they don’t even have a choice in. By contrast, others of us can drink soda nearly every day of our lives and still stay thin with moderately little effort.
And just like tobacco products, the most frequent consumers of sugary drinks are the poorest Americans. The Wall Street Journal reports that 32.4 percent of adults who consume sugary drinks at least once a day make less than $25,000 a year. By comparison, only 16.1 percent of studied adults fit into the highest wealth bracket in the study, which is $75,000 per year or more.
Being healthy comes with a monetary cost, because healthier, fresher foods and beverages usually cost more to produce and ship. The poverty trend applies not only to sodas’ popularity, but also junk food in general, which, by the way, has also been debated for taxation.
In its essence, the “sugar tax” plans to make poor Americans even poorer in the hopes that they’ll eat more like they’re richer.
Involuntarily unhealthy diets, in this case, are tied to the inability to afford anything better. Taxing sodas won’t make poor people eat any healthier. It will force them to alternatives common with the lower-class, such as sugary snacks, fast food or even beer.
Yet in spite of all these differences in the demographics of soda drinkers, the sales tax is applied indiscriminately.
Someone with a well-balanced diet and on a “cheat day” will pay the same tax as someone who relies on soda every day of his or her life. Someone who can’t afford to drink anything better than a cheap bottle of soda (and can’t bear the plainness of water, juice or whatever other alternatives exist) will pay the same tax as someone financially stable.
So if obesity and our diets are really a state interest, why not start with tackling the socio-economic factors of obesity? Why not make healthy food more accessible to the poor, rather than making the only food available less accessible?
Austin Graves is a history major from Sioux Falls, S.D.