Eat Globally, Tax Locally

An editorial in this morning’s USA Today disparages the World Health Organization (WHO) for encouraging fat taxes as a response to obesity. The paper argues that “governmental Twinkie police are less effective than the marketplace in this food fight.” Yet as Forbes magazine points out, several states are currently considering extra taxes on soda, candy, and snack foods.

USA Today accuses WHO of “mixing apples and oranges — or, in this case, Twinkies and cigarettes” for pushing global regulation of food companies “modeled after the efforts that have worked so well against Big Tobacco.” But unlike food companies, “Tobacco producers sell a product that has proved deadly and addictive even when used as intended. Not only do people have to eat to live, but nutritionists long have taught that there are no ‘bad’ foods, only ‘bad’ ways of using food.”

Forbes, meanwhile, suggests that the “tax police” remain “unsatiated by their huge claims on booze and cigarettes.” The result? “More than a dozen revenue-starved states” are now targeting chips, cookies, soda, and candy “under the misguided impression that by charging a few extra cents per can or bag they can trim their budget deficits and encourage the rest of us to slim down.”

In the state of Washington, proposed legislation would slap extra taxes on all “carbonated beverages” and candy. A Nebraska bill would likewise tax candy and soda, as well as chips, popcorn, pretzels, pastries, donuts, Danish, cakes, tortes, pies, tarts, bars, and cookies. Both bills helpfully define candy as “a preparation of sugar, honey, or other natural or artificial sweeteners in combination with chocolate, fruits, nuts, or other ingredients or flavorings in the form of bars, drops, or pieces.”

While the nutritional puritans at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) are surely breaking out the celebratory carrot juice over this proliferation of fat taxes, the American people have made their preferences clear. Only eight percent support fat taxes. Those numbers will surely drop if CSPI can persuade legislators to fulfill its vision of “taxes on butter, potato chips, whole milk, cheeses, [and] meat.”

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