This morning we squared off against Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” It was the second round of a debate Lazarus sparked last Friday in a column intended to promote nanny-state sin taxes as a tool to control obesity among private citizens.
In his Feb. 25 column, Lazarus claimed big-government bureaucrats absolutely have a “role to play in prodding people to do better.” He conceded, however, that we (and other commentators who agree with us) “are correct that this is a way of punishing people for unhealthy behavior.”
Actually, Lazarus wasn’t quite right: We don’t link sin taxes with “unhealthy behaviors.” We do, argue, however, that sin taxes unfairly target Americans who enjoy “simple pleasures” like soda and snack foods. We certainly don’t think drinking sugar-sweetened beverages in moderation is “unhealthy behavior.”
But Lazarus seemed confident this morning on CNBC, voicing his support for punishing any citizen—skinny or obese—with penny-per-ounce or calorie-based taxes. He also says government must regulate our food and beverage choices because we’re not capable of making good choices on our own:
There’s a line that gets drawn, and in this case, we’re talking about a public health crisis that clearly needs to be addressed because personal choice is letting us down and we need to take a step and to do something about that.
“It’s insulting to think that the government should tax us for our own good,” we replied on CNBC this morning. “This is all about raising money for states with deficits.” We also cited a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showing that government-imposed soda taxes do nothing to help consumers shed excess weight.
We’ve said it before, we’ve said it to David Lazarus, and we’ll say it again to anyone who still doesn’t understand: Intrusive government regulation won’t slim anyone down, but reliance on personal responsibility just might. And life’s simple pleasures were intended to be enjoyed in moderation—not taxed out of our reach.