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home : opinions : opinions February 05, 2016

8/22/2009 10:34:00 PM
Debate: Should U.S. have a 'fat tax'? - Pro

Ben Hansen
The Daily Courier

Imposing a tax on fatty, unhealthy foods may seem like the penultimate act of nanny-state paternalism.

But the best argument in favor of it comes from the ultimate conservative icon - Ronald Reagan.

"If you want to kill something," he said, "tax it."

The Clinton Administration proved the validity of that statement in the mid-1990s when it imposed a luxury tax on such things as yachts and other play-pretties of the rich.

Everyone thought it would bring in billions, but the wealthy people either postponed such purchases or bought their gew-gaws overseas.

The cash cow plan backfired completely.

A recent study from the Urban Institute and the University of Virginia theorizes that a 10 percent excise or sales tax on fatty foods could raise $522 billion over the next 10 years. A 20 percent tax, it said, could raise $937 billion.

Frankly, if a fat tax becomes law, I wouldn't look for it to become a major revenue center.

My weight has seesawed up and down all my life, and it's started back down again, but it would go into freefall if I had to pay an extra 10 percent or 20 percent for my next pint of Cherry Garcia ice cream.

Recent increases in tobacco taxes have brought the percentage of American smokers down from 40 percent of the population to 20 percent. Although we die without food, tobacco is one of the most addictive substances on earth.

The University of Virginia estimates that unless consumption patterns change, 40 percent of American adults will be obese by 2015, and obesity-related issues account for more than $200 billion in health care spending annually.

"If the single best deterrent is a tax, it seems like we've got to mention it," says Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., former dean at the University of Virginia's Medical School and currently the university's executive vice president and provost.

Fat tax opponents say government shouldn't tell people what to eat, the tax could hurt the poor most, interfere with personal liberty and add bureaucracy.

If it discourages me from stopping at too many fast-food restaurants and convenience stores and helps me lose my fear of ivory poachers when I wear my gray sweatsuit, I'm for it.

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• Debate: Should U.S. have a 'fat tax'? - Con

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: No name provided

I like the idea of such a tax, and perhaps it could be used to educate contributors to this blog on the proper use of the English language.

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: We're big and fat dudes!

Exercise doesn't result in weight loss unfortunately. Only reducing caloric intake results in weight loss. Most Americans have no idea the caloric content of what they eat. 2/3 or Americans are either obese or on their way to being obese. Obesity and its subsequent diseases like diabetes will kill more Americans then cancer or heart disease in the next 50 years. We're just starting to see the effects of the disease that will reduce our lifespan. Sad news and the sadder thing is that most Americans are in denial about a disease that they can cure very easily by themselves (unlike heart disease and cancer). Just eat the correct number of calories and you're pretty much done.

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2009
Article comment by: No name provided

If it is that bad for America, then just propose legislation to outlaw fatty foods. You won't because there's money to be made off of someone's bad choices. Alcohol, tobacco, and doughnuts are thought of as revenue not as bad choices. Ban it or leave it alone!

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2009
Article comment by: Tax the obese not the food

This is your local IRS auditor calling...could you come down to our office so we can check your weight? I love it!!!

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2009
Article comment by: what a choice

How about everyone get out of their car more often and walk or bike to get where they are going? Oh, but it's not very safe to do that around here. . . Die by fat - or die by car?

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2009
Article comment by: Grundlecat

Angry taxpayer: all kinds of people IS BUYING junk food, not just poor people on food stamps. I believe they're not allowed to purchase soda and chips already. We ought to revamp it to be like the Women Infants and Children Program: there is a list of approved foods you can use the money for, and nothing else.

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2009
Article comment by: Tom Steele

A tax on drugs and cigarettes to fund ad campaigns and help clinics work. I think a tax on the fat products to provide for clinics and ad campaigns would help. All the taxes must go to help the program and be monitored.

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: Jay

I don't smoke but I also dislike cigarette taxes. Taxes that target cigarettes and laws that tell businesses what type of patrons they can serve are wrong. I suppose if we allow a fat tax maybe next the government would tell businesses fat people couldn't eat at fast food. This is a slippery slope and I am sorry to already see taxes on so many things in life that our government feels it must control or regulate!

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: Leave the Cheese Out of It...

I'm undecided. The Editor did bring up some very interesting points, and I appreciate his candor about his own struggles with food. I don't generally favor government intervention, yet I do believe that poor diet is contributing to increased medical costs, and human suffering. I smoke, the taxes, and the inconvenience have not forced me to quit. One the one hand I have compassion for the people that would pay more, put on the other hand those people don't seem to mind taxing my cigarettes, or forcing me out into the driving rain if I have a cigarette.

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: Jay

Why not tax people every time they flush the toilet? That way we encourage water conservation by compelling people to "hold it" thus reducing flushes, thus reducing water waste. Better yet just tax idiocy and the IRS won't know what to do with all the money!

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: Jay

How about we tax idiocy? I'm not going to pay for someone's lack of self control...

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: N.D. Plume

If this is the next to last (penultimate) act of nanny-state paternalism, what are those that would precede this act? Where is Steven?

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: Let's Get Fat (and happy)!

A Fat Tax! I love it. Brilliant. Slap in on chips (not baked), ice cream (not popsicles), hamburger (not lean), Twinkies. Maybe then there wouldn't be 25 yards of freezer space at our local Safeway devoted entirely to ice cream products! At least it doesn't come in cans lol. America is Land of the free and Home of the Fat Kids, but it's just "part of our culture" so leave it be. Obama's gotta pump gastric bypass surgery benefits on his healthcare bill. He'll breeze to the finish line if he does that.

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: FAT bashing is the NEW IN THING

How about an descending scale IQ tax? It is common knowledge that "low IQ" is the underlying cause of a significant majority of "bad choices". Drugs, alcohol, smoking, poor eating, speeding, illegal guns, jumping off buildings head first, you name it, low intelligence goes hand in hand with higher medical costs. Also, a biking tax because we all know that bike auto accidents drive up the cost of medical and legal costs.

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: How 'bout an ignorance tax

That way we can address two problems at once, obesity and the proliferation stupidity that passes for conservatisim in this country.

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article comment by: angry taxpaxer

Here is a better idea: Let's make sure that people who are on food stamps is not using them to buy fatty and unhealthy foods. That would mean no soda, ding-dongs, potato chips or ice cream. See how that works first because our money is already going to the potentially bad eaters in the first place. How much could that save in future health costs?

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