September 22, 2009
Daniel Engber, senior editor of Slate, writes:
A fat tax, then, discriminates among the varieties of gustatory experience. And its impact would fall most directly on the poor, nonwhite people who tend to be the most avid consumers of soft drinks and the most sensitive to price. Under an apartheid of pleasure, palatable drinks are penalized while delicious—or even hyperdelicious—products come at no extra charge. What about the folks who can’t afford a $5 bottle of POM Wonderful? No big deal, say the academics writing in the New England Journal of Medicine; they can always drink from the faucet. Here’s how the article puts it: “Sugar-sweetened beverages are not necessary for survival, and an alternative (i.e. water) is available at little or no cost.” So much for Let them eat cake.
We’ve known for a long time that any sin tax is likely to be a burden on the poor, since they’re most prone to unhealthy behavior. (James Madison fought the snuff tax on these grounds way back in 1794.) But you might just as well say that poor people have the most to gain from a sin tax for exactly the same reason. It’s also possible that revenues from a fat tax would be spent on obesity prevention—or go back to the community in other ways. There’s a knotty argument here about the vexing and reciprocal interactions among health, wealth, and obesity. It’s not clear whether, and in what direction, a soda tax might redistribute wealth. Whatever you think of the economics, though, raising the price on soda—and offering water in its place—will redistribute pleasure.
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September 18, 2009
According to ABC News,
Several of the nation’s leading health experts are calling for a tax on soda as a means of curbing America’s obesity-epidemic.
Their paper, appearing in the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, calls for a tax on “sugar-sweetened” drinks in order to reduce the consumption of the drinks and lower health costs as well as fund government-run health programs.
“A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is really a double-win,” said Dr. David Ludwig, a co-author of the paper and director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital, Boston.
“We can raise much-needed dollars while likely reducing obesity prevalence, which is a major driver of health care costs, the paper states. “Ultimately the government needs to raise more money to cover the deficit, and in terms of ways of raising that revenue, a tax on sugar sweetened beverages is really a no-brainer.”
Unfortunately for the health experts who wrote the report, the effects of soda taxes have already been studied. Below is an excerpt from a paper by Jason Fletcher (Yale University), David Frisvold (Emory University), and Nathan Tefft (Bates College):
Our results, based on state soft drink sales and excise tax information between 1988 and 2006 and the National Health Examination and Nutrition Survey, suggest that soft drink taxation, as currently practiced in the United States, leads to a moderate reduction in soft drink consumption by children and adolescents. However, we show that this reduction in soda consumption is completely offset by increases in consumption of other high calorie drinks.
August 21, 2009
U.S. News and World Report published an interesting article earlier this week:
Long-term heroin addicts who were given “medical heroin” were able to stay in treatment longer than those given methadone, a Canadian study has found.
In addition, rates of illicit drug use and illegal activity declined among the participants, who had failed earlier attempts at treatment, according to the study.
“Without [medical heroin], these people who’ve already been written off as beyond help would be on street drugs, exposing themselves to harms like overdose, HIV and illegal activities,” explained the study’s senior author, Dr. Martin Schechter, a professor and director of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. “But, if we can get them into a clinic while keeping them safe and stabilizing their lives, we can get them out of that 24-hour cycle and get them in touch with people like doctors and nurses.”