Idea alert

Mike Moffatt considers a pop tax.

Placing a general tax on junk food proves problematic, because one kid’s treat may be another child’s dinner (ask two people to define junk food, and you will likely get two different answers). But before you cry “nanny state,” consider this: soft drinks provide little to no nutrition, so it is easier to implement a specific tax on them than on all junk food. A tax on pop would more closely resemble the sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco. For instance, the federal government taxes beer at 31 cents a litre, and it could place a similar per-litre surcharge on soft drinks. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that a 10 percent across-the-board increase in the price of sweetened soft drinks would lower consumption by 4 to 11 percent; therefore, even a modest tax could have a big impact.

The goal, however, is not to control pop sales but to reduce obesity. All else being equal, a 10 percent reduction in pop consumption would cut roughly 6,500 calories per year from the average American male’s diet, resulting in slower weight gain or a loss of nearly two pounds per year. This may seem insignificant, but taken over several years and across a large population segment, the weight loss adds up.




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Idea alert

  1. This is primarily about stigmatizing consumption that Moffatt finds lowbrow and gauche, not deterring consumption that inexorably leads to obesity; the admission that diet drinks would have to be taxed because they’re evil for other reasons is a pretty clear indication of that.

    If your position can be summed up by a clip of Helen Flanders shrieking THINK OF THE CHILDREN, it’s probably not a defensible one.

    • No kidding! Moffatt’s proposal is nothing but snobbish paternalism – colour me surprised Moffatt hasn’t proposed a ‘latte tax’ for drinks from Starbucks or Tims.

    • Helen Lovejoy.
      But yeah.

    • This is primarily about stigmatizing consumption that Moffatt finds lowbrow and gauche, not deterring consumption that inexorably leads to obesity.

      That’s a LITTLE harsh, isn’t it?

      To me, that’s akin to saying that conservatives want to keep pot illegal not because it inexorably leads to social ills, but because they never got invited to any of the cool parties as teenagers.

      Also, to be fair, Moffat doesn’t “admit” in the piece that “diet drinks would have to be taxed because they’re evil for other reasons”. He simply says that because diet drinks come with their own issues LEGISLATORS might lump them in too. He doesn’t say that they SHOULD be lumped in too, or even comment on the wisdom of such a bundling at all, as far as I can see.

  2. But before you cry “nanny state,”

    Any tax intended to change peoples’ diets is obviously and clearly nanny-state. If you believe it is government’s responsibility to control personal fitness, then you are clearly in favour of a nanny state.
    And frankly, using taxes as the means to control behaviour serves the bigger purpose of diverting more and more money to the government, so it’s back-door big government as well.
    Thirdly, it’s a regressive tax designed to hit lower income people who consume more soft drinks than the cafe latte crowd.

    • That would be the same issue with MacDonald’s food. Every time I look inside a MacDonald’s these days, I’m struck by the fact that the patrons are overrepresented by those from lower-income brackets. There’s a reason for that – MacDonald’s food is relatively cheap.
      Rather than making bad food expensive, perhaps the government, if doing anything, should be looking at ways to make good, nutritious food cheap and easily available.

      • I agree.
        Two additional responses:
        1. I’m sure Moffatt would favour a McDonald’s tax after he gets his Coke tax.
        2. McDonald’s retains the old menu, but they have added some more nutritious items as well (such as salads and fruit), probably in part to defend themselves from the Moffatts of the world.

        • I wish $1.99 oatmeal made the $1.39 value menu. It is friggin oats.
          As long as there are alternatives cheap, like bottled water in the hot summer, tax it. Ayn Rand loved Pepsi as a child behind the curtain. No one is saying ban it. LKO would pay $5 for a 2L? $3? There is a demand curve even if yours is bluer.

          • Government gets enough taxes. Why the heck on earth should people hand over money to the government whenever they want a soda?

            I have a better idea. Government should levy a special tax on your house. And your doors and windows. Since you like to hand over your money so much.

      • I agree, but one way of doing that, it turns out, is to increase the non-productive costs of bad food. There already is a lot of pressure to put out healthy food, right? The reason places don’t is simply the cost differential. Raise the cost of the bad food and companies find less reason to order it, more reason to order good food. More orders of good food means more demand, which in turn leads to more suppliers and a lowering of prices.

        Economies of scale can be used to our advantage.

        The other advantage of this is that it’s a lot easier to tax the bad stuff than it is to find and fairly apply subsidies to the good stuff.

  3. It is my great misfortune to live in era where we take social scientists seriously. Economists are little more than astrologists who sound clever because they use dubious stats.

    Moffatt’s reasoning is ‘interesting’ to say the least. Maybe people will start drinking other sugary drinks when cost of pop increases, maybe they will start buying larger bags of chips to make up for their calorie loss. In Moffatt’s world, humans are automatons who are easily nudged in directions with minor incentives even tho we know weight is controlled by genes.

    According to StatsCan Canada Food Statistics (2003) Canadian daily consumption of energy(kcal) has increased from 3172 in 1976 to 3732 in 2003. I am 6 foot 2 and weigh less than 180 pounds and I think 90% of Canadian population has weight problem, not just a few obese people.

    People control what they eat, but genes control our appetites and weight. Most people need to fix their diets, not just people who are gorging on sugary drinks.


    • Moffatt’s reasoning is ‘interesting’ to say the least. Maybe people will start drinking other sugary drinks when cost of pop increases, maybe they will start buying larger bags of chips to make up for their calorie loss.

      I don’t disagree with much of what you’re proposing here, but these two points are kind silly imho. As per OrsonBean’s comment, pop is SO cheap that there’s almost no level of tax one could apply after which there’d be a less expensive sugary drink option. Certainly not on a level of difference that would change buying habits. Secondly, people don’t drink pop because of the calories, they drink it because of the TASTE. Nobody’s going to buy more of something salty to make up for a loss of something sweet, imho.

      • Consider also that in almost all circumstances water is FREE yet people still pay the extra cost for their sodas.

        • Hell, water is almost always available for free (in Canada) but people still pay extra costs for (bottled) WATER. LOL

      • “Nobody’s going to buy more of something salty to make up for a loss of something sweet, imho.”

        People buy junk food because humans need proteins, carbs and fats and junk food is loaded with all three, particularly sugars. Humans are hard wired to crave sugar and we get our hit from either junk food, sugar is number one ingredient in many/most? prepared food at grocery store, sugar is everywhere. If there is going to be a tax, it should a a general sugar tax, not specific to one product like pop.

        People need to get sugar in different ways than we are now. I have taught myself how to cook over the past couple of years – I put sugar or honey in sauces/dressings and bake our own desserts – and my girlfriend doesn’t eat junk food anymore.

        • All fair points, my point was simply that one is probably not going to supplement one’s need/hardwired desire for sugar, with a product that satisfies their need/hardwired desire for sodium.

          I was, admittedly, being too pedantic. My thought was simply that no one would compensate for their decreased pop intake with potato chips, they’d compensate for their decreased pop intake with something like a candy bar, or some jelly beans.

        • ” My thought was simply that no one would compensate for their decreased pop intake with potato chips ….. ”

          Most junk/fast food consumption is mindless. It is there, people eat it. Moffatt focusing solely on pop tax is asinine when all our prepared foods – which is a massive industry – are full of unnecessary sugars, fats and salt.
          ———
          “Mindless Eating isn’t exactly a diet book: there’s no specific diet plan to follow or healthy recipes to prepare. Instead, it uncovers some of the “hidden persuaders” that cause us to overeat, and offers simple strategies to help us stop.

          We also too readily accept the notion that one unit of something is the same as one serving. After all, how many people bother to split their 20-ounce bottle of cola into the stated two and a half servings, or eat only half of their oversized store-bought muffin? We’re also guilty of falling for a particular health claim and overeating because of it. Low-fat cookies come to mind: they’re often not much lower in calories, and sometimes much higher in sugar and sodium. Beware, too, the “Subway effect,” where eating at a restaurant that offers healthier menu items makes people feel they’re eating fewer calories—even if they choose a hefty meatball sandwich.

          But there’s hope. Wansink reminds us that we don’t go to bed skinny and wake up fat. Most weight gain is gradual: the extra 100 or 200 calories here and there that slowly add up to extra pounds from year to year. This is what Wansink calls the mindless margin.”
          http://lowfatcooking.about.com/od/lowfatcookingtools/fr/mindlesseating.htm

  4. Imposing extra costs to reduce consumption is an idea which probably has validity in certain cases. But soda is so cheap that any tax would probably have to be really really high, proportionately, to actually discourage consumption.

  5. I’m not usually one for whining about my taxes, but 31 cents federal tax per litre on beer? 31 cents!

    • :-)

      I’m all for cheaper beer, but I don’t think I’m gonna get too excited about the fact that a litre of Sleeman Original Draught costs me around $5.40 instead of $5.09.

      • I guess it depends how many litres we’re talking about. ;-0

  6. Didn’t Moffatt earlier advocate lithium in our drinking water?

    So, why not ritalin or laxatives in kid’s pop?

    • Lithium in drinking water? If we are putting mind altering substances in water supply, I think we should put mdma not lithium.

      Or maybe we could have choice about what we want our water to do for us for next few hours – normal water for thirst, lithium water when you feeling manic, mdma water to feel blissed out and a few other options as well.

      • He probably gives out apples at Halloween.

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