I can’t put up a post under this title very frequently for reasons which are self-apparent. But as I was thinking about some of the real problems we are facing (or more exactly not facing) it occurs to me that we might be able to kill two birds with one stone (or at least inflict some serious damage on them). Those two are our deficits and our health. Oh, and collaterally, we also could potentially lower prices for energy and help the environment – all with one move.
And that move is that we start applying a Federal Excise Tax to all soda that is sold in the United States.
I won’t bore you with all the statistics about the long-term effects of sugar (and sugar-substitute) on our health as I’ve already bored you with that. Let me just synopsize those earlier posts by saying that we are growing fatter and seeing an explosion in diabetes and cardio-vascular disease – in large measure because of the amount of refined sugar that we consume.
To say that this is an “epidemic” is not to coin a phrase but merely to use the terminology that the CDC and NIH employ in several of their studies. Obviously, if you develop a nation of chronically ill patients you place an undue burden on an already overly-burdened health care system. While the sugar that we consume in our soda is certainly not the only reason for this state of affairs, it is a major contributor to our situation.
A well thought out law is intended to alter behavior to achieve a positive result. That is why we have traffic laws and is why we have excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol. Driving in an imprudent manner results in traffic deaths and excess consumption of tobacco products and alcohol have serious long-run health implications. But so does sugar consumption – perhaps ones which are even more apocalyptic in scope.
We Americans consume an average of nearly three servings of soda a day. For purposes of this post, I am going to consider a serving to be the amount of soda contained in a typical can. (I’d give you the quantity that contains but I don’t have any on hand to which I might refer since I don’t buy the stuff).
If you do the math, by placing a twenty-five cent excise tax on each “serving” whether that was a consumer’s purchase at the grocery store or one dispensed from a fountain at a convenience store or served with a restaurant meal, that would raise just shy of $80 Billion dollars a year. Incidentally, that is more than the most optimistic estimates suggest could be raised by eliminating the Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 per year. (Parenthetically, while I think that is a short-sighted proposal, I need to add that I am not someone who would be affected were that to occur).
As I said previously, a well crafted law should be written to achieve a positive result. Hopefully, the imposition of this excise tax should reduce the amount of soda that we consume – reducing the amount of revenue we collect in the future. But there should be consequent savings which would be achieved by lowering the number of new patients needing attention by our medical practitioners for chronic conditions who were able to avoid them by altering their lifestyles.
And, of course, how does one put a price on not having to spend a lifetime measuring one’s blood sugar or self-administering insulin? As Grandma used to say, “If you have your health you have everything.”
All that soda has to be put in containers to make it available for the consumer to purchase. Aluminum is one of the most energy-consumptive materials known to man – and we use and discard a lot of it. Plastic bottles are made from petrochemicals and have their own potential health consequences.
All that energy and all that litter tied up in those little cans and bottles of effervescence.
Will the imposition of such a tax cure all our problems, economic, health, energy and conservation? Of course not. But it’s a better start than anything I’ve heard proposed to date – and we need to start somewhere.
We have become conditioned to think of life as disposable and those things which we acquire to be of value only until we are tired of them and throw them away for something else which will amuse us for a short while. Maybe it is the abundance that we have enjoyed that has led to that mindset – an abundance enjoyed but received without a sense of gratitude. We have been fortunate as a nation that we’ve gotten away with that for so long.
If we all took the time to educate ourselves on ways to better our health, we would not need yet another rule, regulation or tax from Big Brother in Washington. But it is obvious that there are few of us who are willing to make that effort and even fewer who are willing to make the commitment to themselves. And in that context, I think this would be one of the wisest interventions that government could bring to bear.