Donna Peeples writes:

I have seen a lot of articles in the paper about taxing sodas and foods that are bad for you. I say, “Why not?”

I used to be a smoker. At one point, I was up to two packs a day. When New Jersey raised their cigarette tax, I stopped because my cigarettes were almost twice as expensive as when I had started smoking. I couldn’t afford it anymore. You know what? It was the right choice. I am healthier today because I stopped smoking. And I might not have done it if cigarettes were the same price as before.

I think this idea of taxing unhealthy behavior is a smart one. I think we should tax things that make us sick: cigarettes, alcohol, fatty foods and sugary foods. I know that people don’t like the idea of the government telling them that they shouldn’t do things like eat foods that are bad for you but all of these things are adding to our health care problem. I don’t think it’s fair that I should have to pay for health care for people who didn’t stop smoking or who eat too much. And I have read that most of the cost of health care in the US is to pay for diseases and sicknesses that could have been prevented with a better lifestyle.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be able to buy cigarettes, beer and candy but I do think if you do continue to buy those things, you should pay more. Maybe some people will stop because of the cost. And those that don’t will pay for their own health care. If this happens, maybe we won’t have to raise income taxes to pay for health care.

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney and tax writer.


  1. What if the government is wrong? For example, the government waged war on fats, but it turns out that certain fats such as omega-3s are healthy and help prevent problems. Waging war on fats sent people to load up on refined carbs such as white bread and pasta, which turned worries about being overweight into behaviors that made people downright obese, complicated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

    Or salt? Although most people suffer from high blood pressure and too much salt, some people genetically suffer from low blood pressure, and salt is very fundamentally necessary to life.

    When it comes to nutrition, science has very little idea what is a “bad” behavior or not. Frankly, humans are complex creatures, and there isn’t anything that’s entirely “bad” or “good”. Human health requires staying within a very fragile balance of very many factors (like the difference between heat stroke and hypothermia). We would also have health problems if we didn’t get enough fat, salt, sugar, and all these “evil” things that are actually essential nutrients. If we use taxes to change behavior, the pendulum might swing too far in the other direction. Life isn’t so simplistic.

  2. Donna – Disagree with you completely on this one. Mainly because we have a disagreement at a fundamental level.

    My question to you – Why should government be involved in healthcare at all? Look at the Constitution – the foundation of our country. Can they even point to an Article that gives them the power? If they want to help reform healthcare, how about breaking down the state barriers that prevent insurance agencies from selling across state lines. That one falls under Interstate Commerce.

    Letting the government determine what is good or bad is a dangerous idea. The concept of unintended consequences plays a huge role in how things turn out. Let them have their way and you will get taxed buying chocolate too.

  3. David Schneider Reply

    I understand the plan… We tax these things so high that only those making $100,000 or more a year can afford them and that way we kill off all the rich people because we can only afford to live “healthy” , and those that have money can afford the health care needed for such non-healthy living. (unless the insurance companies have made “breathing” a pre-exsisting condition by then and deny your claim) That’s a great idea! By the way, hasn’t it been proven that too much sun is unhealthy… how are we gonna tax that?

  4. “[T]he power to tax involves the power to destroy.” – McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). You are advocating that Congress wield the power to destroy lifestyles it deems inappropriate. That’s not a power I feel comfortable giving them.

  5. “let’s tax things that make us sick”…OK, following that logic, let’s also tax anyone with a sidewalk – people do fall down on them and get owies. And anyone with a tree should pay a tax because random children do fall out of them and clunk their heads from time to time. And we should tax irons, toasters, pots and pans and anything else that gets hot and may burn someone. Oh! And I want to tax people that choose to wear perfume and aftershave since the smell makes ME sick. If we tax everything and anything that’s “bad” or makes us “sick” where will it end? The tax code is messy enough. At some point we need PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. If I can limit myself to one soda a day – why should I be lumped in with the gal that chugs them nonstop?

  6. garagefather Reply

    It is amazing the short shrift given to our freedoms in this day and age. I could examine anyone’s life and find unhealthy or dangerous things they do. Whether it is driving too fast, eating too much fast food, having unprotected sex, or sky diving, people do things because they are free, that others would find objectionable. Human nature is what it is but many Americans think we can legislate out human nature and somehow create a utopia. Years of freedom ending legislation have been past to control behavior but we always have some issue that has to be addressed because the previous freedom ending legislation put uncle sam in charge of it and then it begins costing them too much money which leads to new legislation to control further behaviors the government deems costly to itself. The productive citizens who pay for all of this nonsense get angry because they have to pay for it and want to stop rewarding bad behavior. Citizens end up promoting more legislation to curb the behaviors they don’t want to pay for any more. Don’t you see that it is a never ending spiral towards dictatorship? The more items our government takes control of, the more behaviors the government will need to regulate in order to control costs.
    Currently they are targeting junk food. What happens when they target your “bad” behavior. There is undoubtedly something you do that others would find unhealthy or dangerous.
    All we need to do is force people to be responsible for themselves. No matter what arguments you make or what false logic you use, if everyone was personally responsible for themselves, then there would be no reason to care what someone does to themselves. Until then, the welfare state will continually tell us how to live and force us to pay for how others live.

  7. I say tax cigarettes, alcohol and (after you legalize them) “recreational drugs. Why? Because it’s a good way for the government to get money. Research shows that if you raise taxes on tobacco, alcohol, etc the net effect is more tax collection — not enough people quit or cut back to offset revenue gain. Also, it gives you a “choice” about paying taxes. Don’t smoke, don’t drink — and you don’t pay those taxes.
    Taxing hamburgers, McNuggets, ice cream and french fries might not have that effect. Frankly, I’m a little nauseated by the idea of gov’t trying to control “behavior” with taxes. Some behaviors are illegal (murder, theft, etc) and are “controlled” by the judicial system. In a mlot of places, so is smoking. My campus just went smoke-free — I mean indoors and out. I’m sure the wellness freaks are strutting like turkeys about their “success” with this new policy, but I think it’s overreaching.

  8. Ok, then we tax people who engage in homosexual acts and those heterosexuals who have more than one partner as well because of the dangers of picking up AIDs and STDs.

    The problem with taxing soda is that it’s also a tax on people suffering from nausea going through cancer treatment, migraines, flu, post op, etc.

  9. Besides, fatty foods don’t make people fat; over-indulgence and lack of exercise does.

  10. David J. Conklin Reply

    >Research shows that if you raise taxes on tobacco, alcohol, etc the net effect is more tax collection — not enough people quit or cut back to offset revenue gain.

    When the raised the taxes on cigarettes so that young people couldn’t afford them, they quit smoking. They gained better health and in the long run our medical costs will drop.

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