In an attempt to shore up the state’s $13.3 billion deficit, Gov. David A. Paterson is trying to give New Yorkers a Christmas present they do not want: Taxes. The governor is proposing taxes on just about every simple pleasure — movie tickets, health spa visits, cable TV, music downloads and many more. But the most wrong-headed proposals may be the “sin taxes” on soft drinks, wine and beer.
More than any of the others, the 18 percent tax on non-diet soda and certain fruit juices stands out as a blatant and deliberate attempt to engineer our behavior to a politician’s desired end. One vocal health gadfly, Marion Nestle, called the proposal “an interesting experiment and one that’s worth trying.”
Since when is the government in the business of conducting tax experiments — especially when the experiment has been tried before and failed to produce the desired results?
Four years after Arkansas’ sweeping initiative against childhood obesity, the state’s desired objectives remain unmet. And a recent report published by the American Dietetic Association found that soft drink bans in schools had very little impact.
The precedents for taxing certain drinks aren’t encouraging, either. In April, Maine implemented taxes on soda, beer and wine. Mainers hated the new law so much that last month voters overwhelmingly chose to repeal it. West Virginia had a tax on “handling or distribution of all bottled soft drinks and all soft drink syrups” for more than five decades. According to at least two rankings, the state is the second most obese in the nation.
Paterson does not have scientific research on his side. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that “Evidence for the association between sugar-sweetened drink consumption and obesity is inconclusive.” Add to this a large review this year by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which reported “virtually no association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and weight gain in children and teens.”
As for alcohol, many studies conclude that moderate consumption actually offers health benefits.
Americans have been drinking soda and alcohol for centuries, and eating high-caloric meals for decades. What has changed is the marked decline of physical activity. Just this month, the CDC reported that 43 percent of Americans get less exercise than the federal government’s 2010 recommendation.
For politicians, arbitrarily taxing certain foods, drinks and ingredients is convenient and effortless. Paternalistic proponents of these measures can live with that. But for the rest of us, Paterson’s reckless plan is a stern reminder to actively protect our freedoms from activists who think its “sinful” to eat, drink and be merry.