Food Police Want to Tax You into Eating Healthy

You may have noticed a flurry of news items based on a study by the Urban Institute, “Reducing Obesity: Policy Strategies from the Tobacco Wars.”

In it, the costs of obesity on the nation’s medical system are given (a cost of $147 billion cited by the CDC), or about 9% of the total health expenditure. The study cites with alarm the growth of obesity in the general American population, climbing to 40% by 2015. The solution proposed is massive federal intervention regarding our diets and portion sizes. Key among the interventions is a tobacco-sized tax on fattening foods. “Sinful-food” taxes to change the way people eat. Doing so with a broad-based tax, they surmise, will reduce and reverse obesity because, “with a more narrowly targeted tax, consumers could simply substitute one fattening food or beverage for another.” Do unto food as was done unto tobacco.

The “tobacco wars” were an attack on an entire industry as well as a slam on smoking. Taking a hint, we can assume this would be a new assault on everything displeasing to the vegetarian crowd. Man the castle, Burger King.

This would call for the United States to adopt extensive menu and food labeling changes. The report says this would not be a problem as a number of European countries have led the way. State laws on the books would be overridden by new federal laws. The new buzzword “disincentivize” has entered our language; it means to discourage us from eating and drinking what they don’t want us to have and make us consume what we would rather not.

The payoff if a 10% tax were levied on foods deemed “less healthy” might be as much as $522 billion over ten years. One can’t imagine the tax would stop at 10%, as one remembers the child-friendly SCHIP jacked up taxes on tobacco products 2,000%. At the same time, the government would commit to tax subsidies to stimulate consumption of fruits and vegetables. A curious notion since the price of veggies has never placed them out of reach.

This all sounds so nice and innocent. So many “facts” will be marshaled on demand to support the conclusion.

Using the tobacco taxes as a model, we don’t have to smoke. We do have to eat and drink. Food is more than fuel and the aggregate of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It is a cultural statement. It’s part of enjoying life. It’s an expression of taste.

Yes, a lot of choices are less healthy than others. Why do we have our choices? Because of the free market and response to the demand of consumers.