Fat, Food, Politics, You've Got to Be Kidding Me

On the “Obesity Tax”

So, New York Governor David Paterson is proposing a tax on sugared soft drinks (among other things), and apparently calling it an “obesity tax.” (The NYT doesn’t call it that or imply that Paterson does, but the Daily News does; make of that what you will.)

I admit I’m not that fussed about the tax itself — just the name, if anyone but the Daily News is indeed calling it that — though Rachel over at Women’s Health News, who first sent me the link, makes a good case for the tax itself being bullshit.  Rachel can’t drink diet soda without getting sick, and she says:

Yes, I know, well if I were in New York, I could choose a beverage other than soda if the tax on non-diet soda is not acceptable to me. I just don’t really like the idea of punitive taxing for behavior control, especially when I perceive it as inconsistent and/or arbitrary. I can sort of understand it with something like cigarettes, where there is pretty strong evidence of inherent badness and there aren’t 800 other smokable tobacco products to choose from that are not being preferentially less taxed. However, will the Governor also be adding taxes to sweetened or just very naturally sweet fruit juices? Is there any evidence that the move would actually improve health, given the apparent endorsement of a particular choice?

That implied endorsement of a single alternative definitely bugs me, given that diet soda is loaded with sodium*, the carbonation can cause heartburn (I know from sad experience), and artificial sweeteners — while not necessarily as evil as your average e-mail forward would have you believe — can have nasty effects on people like Rachel and might not be especially good for any of us. If you want to tax pop, go ahead and tax pop — my wee libertarian streak is nowhere near wide enough to accommodate outrage over that. Nobody needs to drink pop, regular or otherwise, and as far as I know, there are exactly zero proven benefits of drinking it (other than helping people who work for big beverage corporations keep their jobs). If they were just slapping a tax on fizzy drinks, and calling it a tax on fizzy drinks, I’d shrug. But taxing only the kind that’s thought to make people fat — thereby implying that the kind not thought to make people fat is markedly healthier — and calling it a fucking “obesity tax”? I’ve got a problem with that. 

Liss says a lot of what I would have said if I’d gotten to this earlier, notably:

Resultingly, fat people are demonized, thin-but-unhealthy people are discouraged from thinking about whether regular soda is something they should cut out of their diets for any reason other than it now costs too much thanks to those damn fatties, and the simplistic associations between fat/unhealthy and thin/healthy are reinforced yet again.

The only thing I’d add is that calling this an “obesity” tax, as opposed to yet another “vice” tax, makes it quite literally about the punishment of fat bodies, rather than of “bad” habits that could be held by anyone. Not only are they once again conflating “fat” with “unhealthy,” they’re conflating “fat” with “vice” — reinforcing the message that fatness automatically equals a conscious decision to engage in (arguably) self-destructive behavior.

I mean, it’s basically the same thing, but I think the hair is worth splitting. Half the time, the “fat = unhealthy” camp promotes the idea that fat people are merely ignorant about proper nutrition, which is annoying enough. But the other half of the time, they’re promoting the idea that fat people bring fatness on ourselves because of emotional issues and/or addiction, which to my mind is even worse.

Fatness is not a behavioral issue. Choosing to drink soda is behavioral. Choosing regular soda over diet soda is behavioral. Overeating, among those who actually do it, is behavioral. (It should go without saying, but in case it doesn’t, labeling those things “behavioral” does not imply any judgment; I’m merely distinguishing between things people do and things people are.) Being fat is not behavioral; it’s existential. 

So saying you’re taxing “obesity” when you’re actually taxing a decision to purchase one kind of beverage over another is just so fucking wrong-headed, I don’t know where to begin. Apart from the behavioral/existential issue and the fat = unhealthy issue, here’s another one: A hell of a lot of fat people already drink diet soda, because we prefer the taste or, you know, because we’ve been told that regular soda is what’s making us fat. (I am constantly baffled by how people manage to reconcile the notion that fatties never restrict their calories or avoid sugar with the existence of a gazillion-dollar diet industry.) Personally, I haven’t had a sugared pop on purpose since about 1994; I find it way, way too sweet. I threw a party a couple of years ago and bought regular Coke in case anyone wanted any, and it sat in our kitchen for a year until we finally decided just to throw it out. (After, I might add, attempting to unload it on various friends, all of whom said, “Yuck, I don’t drink sugared pop.” ) Oddly enough, my obesity — you know, that attribute they’re proposing to tax? — did not actually make me forget that I hate regular pop and drink the whole case in one sitting. Nor did Al’s obesity make him forget he can’t handle caffeine, which is why he didn’t want it. Can you believe it?!?

In closing, allow me to quote myself, not for the first time: 

Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan.

*I’ve been busted on this repeatedly in the comments, and rightly so. That was one of those old food myths I’ve been carrying around in my head for years, and I, of all people, should have known to fact check it.

113 thoughts on “On the “Obesity Tax””

  1. I’m also among the number who can’t have artificial sugars, so while I rarely drink soda (beyond those drinks that are nothing but fruit juice and sparkling water…and yes, let’s talk about how regular old healthy fruit has almost as much sugar) I’d be pretty annoyed about a tax on soda.

    I’m pretty annoyed about the existence of artificial sugar in general, because it’s creeping into everything. Cereals, breads, juices, yogurts…I got a migraine from an ENGLISH MUFFIN that had sucralose added to it.

  2. So…I guess my fat husband is good because he drinks diet soda (when he drinks soda at all) purely because he has diabetes, while my fat self is bad because on the three or four ocassions in a typical year when I buy a soda to drink, I’m bad because I dislike the funky aftertaste I always get with a diet soda?

    And I guess it’s that one soda every four months or so that makes me fat.

    Tax soda drinks? I’ve got no beef. Nobody needs that for basic health, sugared or un.

    Tax non-diet soda drinks while giving diet a pass? That’s not okay. That’s saying that diet foods are virtuous and good for you no matter what they are made of and whether they actually offer any sort of nutritional value.

    Seriously, free broccoli and yams for everyone! Public assistance programs to hand out apples and pears? Grand idea! Taxing sugared soda while giving diet a free pass? Total bullshit.

  3. Give who buys most junk-type food in this country, this is going to be a very regressive tax and I don’t like that.

  4. Not to mention the fact that there is evidence that the consumption of artificial sweetners may cause weight gain as well.

    Besides, I’m fat and I drink diet sodas, just because I don’t like the syrupy taste of regular sodas. Drinking diet soda certainly hasn’t made me thin!

  5. I think that I should have the right to drink whatever I please without some governmental entity weighing in or trying to influence my behavior with sin taxes, even if they absolutely without a doubt *prove* that soda causes X perceived malaise.

    Plus, how do they expect to make any revenue out of this? Unlike regular users of nicotine, there is no convincing evidence that regular soda drinkers are addicted to soda. In other words, while taxing cigarettes ensures a steady revenue stream for a good long time while people quit, become addicted again, or become addicted for the first time, taxing soda as a way to generate revenue is self-defeating. Like the individuals quoted in the NY Daily News article, people just are going to stop drinking soda.

  6. I only buy sugared Coke when I’m BOILING A HAM IN IT. Is that good or bad? Or does it depend on my BMI?

    under 20: boil ham in regular Coke
    20-25: boil ham in Diet Coke
    25-35: steam ham in Fresca-scented air
    35+ : give ham to homeless shelter, drink celery juice

  7. Boiling a ham in coke. It sounds vile. I soak it overnight to get the salt out, rinse it, boil it in water, rinse it again, and then roast it in whatever glaze I’m using.

    Do I want to know what Fresca is?

  8. It’s a type of tasty tasty soda that I think only comes in “diet” form. There is no “diet fresca,” to my knowledge, because the regular stuff has 0 calories.

  9. I heard it called an “obesity tax” CBS news radio this morning, so it’s not just the Daily News.

    I’m allergic to Nutra-Sweet. It causes migraines. It’s also deadly to a tiny portion of the population. It is a chemical that a chemical company makes big bucks on.

    And I’m sorry, I’m not about the oppression Olympics, but there is something even wronger about how wrong this is that it comes from a blind African-American. Like, maybe he has cause to think twice about demonizing a group of people.

  10. I just had ribs (for, um, the second time in my life) with a Cherry Coke glaze (actually Wild Cherry Pepsi, but whatever). It was really, really good.

    And yes, my anecdata is that I know a whopping one person with a BMI over 30 who ever drinks regular pop, soda, Coke, or other fizzy stuff. (That, I think, was because she had bronchitis, and Coke syrup will tame a cough, while diet won’t.)

  11. What the hell’s up with all the food/morality/religious police trying to control my body, lately? First they want to interfere with my reproductive rights, then decide which gender I can legally marry and now, what I put in my mouth?

    Look, this is MY body, And it will continue to be mine no matter what scheme these jokers think up. And if anyone thinks this is “for our own good”, I have news for you. These people could care less about our health. It’s all about control, plain and simple.

    I’m a coke addict (Coca Cola, that is). And they’ll pry “my precious” from my cold, dead hands.

  12. I *like* Fresca. My mother used to boil carrots in the stuff—not because of calories, but because when we were switched to city water when I was about ten, we had to conserve for a couple of days so she took a chance. We’d liked them, so she added them to her menu.

    I’m off caffeine right now anyway because I’m breastfeeding, and the last thing my little insomniac needs is hyperfuel. Diet decaf soda breaks up the water tedium.

  13. God this pisses me off. Because, seriously, by giving diet soda a pass, they’re putting on the same level as beverages like milk and 100% fruit juice. Basically, they’re saying it’s a “healthy” drink. Bullshit.

    I don’t drink diet soda, or consume anything with Nutrasweet, because the taste of aspartame makes me want to peel my taste buds off and throw them away. But that’s just me.

    And sure, I won’t ever say soda (diet or regular) is a healthy drink. It’s not. That’s kind of the fucking POINT – it’s just yummy (to many of us, at least). But either tax all soda or tax none of it. Playing picky-choosy based on calorie content is asinine.

    Next they’ll be taxing whole milk because it’s got all that eeeeeeeevul fat!


  14. I was going to write something insightful but then I saw MissPrism’s comment up there and now… now I want the recipe for boiling a ham in Coke, because for some reason it sounds delicious. I can haz?

    (Obesity tax THAT, bitches! Heh.)

  15. I like pop. I know, shameful (it’s worse over at shakesville, but there seems to be this whole “OMG pop is terrible for you if it is diet or regular how can you even think about drinking it?” thing going on). I usually have a can a day of coke. I hate diet pop. But there were a couple of years in the not too distant past when I drank diet coke because someone had told me that if you lay off pop for a year, you will lose 10-15 pounds.

    Needless to say, I didn’t, and that was the end of diet coke for me.

  16. I love diet coke, but I’m not drinking it right now because I’m pregnant and trying to cut out most caffeine and chemicals. But in the defense of the delicious and admittedly not-good-for-you drink, it is not loaded with sodium. There is actually very, very little sodium — 40 mg — in a can of diet coke.

  17. I’m allergic to Nutra-Sweet. It causes migraines

    It causes migraines in some people, yes. Different people have reactions to different foods.

    I prefer aspartame to the other artificial sweeteners used in diet soda, and I prefer diet soda to soda with high-fructose corn syrup. But that’s me: I know that other people hate aspartame’s taste, and still other people have very negative allergic reactions to it, including migraines.

    The thing is that I choose the soda I drink because it’s the soda I like the best, and that agrees with my body the best. Other people should have the same options and not be penalized for their choices.

    And if soda is a “junk food” that needs to have a “junk food” tax, diet soda should also be taxed, because nobody needs soda to live.

  18. I do not drink diet soda. If I want a soda, I’ll drink regular. I even drink Mountain Dew, which a lot of people can’t stand, and I know it’s been called the devil’s piss by many a hater.

    But diet soda is not this virtuous, healthy drink, and it’s been known to cause ill side effects in people more than the regular stuff. If you’re going to tax soda, don’t keep diet off the hook just because it calls itself diet. There are a lot of “diet” foods that are worse than the fat and calorie laden counterparts. And for God’s sake, don’t call it an obesity tax! People are not fat just because they decide to drink a Sprite vs. a Diet Sprite or a Sprite Zero.

    But that’s the US government at work for ya these days. Fat is the popular moral panic now, and the dog-wagging is relentless.

  19. I only know this because I looked it up (in response to an internet argument on fat people and the fact that we’re not constantly gorging ourselves on baby-flavored donuts), but diet soda isn’t loaded with sodium. Most varieties are very low in sodium, if not completely sodium free.

  20. Thank you Chicken. I take my Diet Coke very seriously and am always ready to defend it. Diet Coke has less sodium than regular Coke. 40mg in diet and 50mg in regular, neither can reasonably be classified as “loaded with sodium.” This is for a 12 oz can; making Diet Coke less than 35mg per 8oz and classifying it as a very low sodium beverage. Diet Sierra Mist and Fresca both have 25mg of sodium per 8oz. Crystal Lite while not a soda is a rather popular low cal drink has 0 mg sodium.

    I am not sure how the idea that Diet beverages are loaded with sodium got to be accepted as fact. But it certainly seems to be repeated often enough that people believe it to be true.

  21. Oh ferfuckssake, why don’t all these people who think they win the gold medal in the Humanity Olympics just get together and tax anyone they find unattractive, unsatisfactory, or insufficiently excited about the things they personally enjoy?? At least that would be straightforward.

  22. Fresca tastes like “sparkling”, it says so right there on the can.

    I also don’t drink diet sodas, pretty much every kind of artificial sweetner triggers my migraines. Which is crappy b/c now they are throwing Splenda in to everything, even things that already have sugar in them – I am looking at you, SwissMiss Hot Cocoa Mix.

    When I am flush, I do buy the Dr. Pepper made with cane sugar instead of the hi-fructose style, because it’s more satisfying. Corn syrup seems to make me crave more corn syrup, but I do enjoy a fizzy drink. In fact, I would be willing to pay the extra tax to keep enjoying them, just like I do on tobacco (once in a blue moon), and alcohol, and hotel rooms.

  23. Ooooh! And a junk attitude tax. And a junk science tax. And a tax (for their health!) on people whose grossly overblown senses of entitlement make me sick/ take up too much room/make Europeans laugh at us/cause single tears to run down the cheeks of clowns everywhere.

    Actually, I’munna need you to go ahead and give me all your money and then do whatever I say.

  24. Well, milk is bad for you and so is juice, according to the last nutritionist I talked to .. so why don’t those get a tax?

  25. Now I’m kind of curious as to what soft drinks with high-fructose corn syrup taste like – I’m from Australia, and we have a big sugar cane industry, so most everything is sweetened with sugar.

    Also, I like soda. :D One of my hangovers from dieting has been virtuously avoiding it until the last couple of months when my brain went “OH HAY I CAN HAZ A COKE?”, and I thought, what the heck, intuitive soft drinking! (Since living in Japan, I’ve become kind of addicted to tea, though).

  26. Now I’m kind of curious as to what soft drinks with high-fructose corn syrup taste like – I’m from Australia, and we have a big sugar cane industry, so most everything is sweetened with sugar.

    Some people can taste the difference, but as a devoted Diet Coke drinker they both taste way too sweet for my tastes. I’ll take my chances with the totally artificial chemicals that give it that cool crisp taste, thank you. :-)

  27. I also am allergic to aspartame (NutraSweet) – halloooo anaphylaxis. (AND it’s a major migraine trigger – I can go from a 0 to a 7 instantly just from the *smell*.)

    Ironically, I also have a fierce intolerance to high fructose corn syrup, so I don’t drink standard sodas, period. But I agree the whole thing is at best arbitrary and at worst discriminatory crap. After all, no one would say a thing if I were to knock back a couple two-liters of Coke a day – solely because of my size. HUH?

    (No one would even say anything about osteoporosis, despite the fact that it runs in my family, I’m bird-boned, and Coke is loaded with bone-chomping phosphoric acid. Suuure you care about my health, New York. Suuuure.)

  28. Why all the Fresca hate? It’s tasty.

    New York is all gung-ho about “health” all of a sudden. Posting calories at restaurants and now this?

    Not to mention people glaring at fat people on the subway because they dare have an ass that takes up more space.

    Fresca tastes like “sparkling”, it says so right there on the can.
    At least it doesn’t taste like burning. :)

  29. Dude, I haven’t regularly drank soda of any type in years and years and I’m totes Death Fat (tm someone on fatshionista.) I bought an 8oz bottle of Coke this summer and between us my husband and I couldn’t even finish it.

    I really want to know why people who have no idea about how actual human bodies work are allowed to make health policy.

  30. Also, I actually prefer the taste of diet pop. Maybe because that’s all I ever drank as a kid.

    It’s not about calories – I hate Coke Zero because it tastes too much like “regular.”

    I also prefer to not have my teeth feel like they’re coated in fuzz from the sugar. Or get a sugar headache. Or have my blood sugar plummet half an hour later and feel like puking and/or passing out.

  31. This just sounds like unsound economics. If you want to raise $400m, a tax on an entirely voluntary luxury product with an untaxed alternative is not the way to go.

    I’m sort of idly curious to know if sports and energy drinks, flavored teas, vitamin waters, etc. will be taxed the same as sodas, or if they’ve successfully distanced themselves with empty health claims.

  32. Now I’m kind of curious as to what soft drinks with high-fructose corn syrup taste like

    To me it tastes burnt and a little like plastic. But lots of people don’t mind it, and some people even prefer it to sugar.

  33. Obesity tax? What’s next, weighing us before we order and taxing us based on a BMI chart? Give me a damn break.

  34. FYI, Fresca is a relic from when saccharine was the diet pop sweetener of choice. It’s grapefruit-flavored, so the sour/bitterness of the grapefruit meant the bitter aftertaste of saccharine fit in (“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”).

    In a similar move, Pepsi Light added lemon to saccharine-sweetened Pepsi. It was discontinued when aspertame / nutrasweet became common.

    Re: tax on pop, my state (WA) doesn’t tax soda specifically. We do have a fairly high sales tax from which food, diapers, and baby formula are exempt, and pop, beer, and wine are specifically not exempted from the sales tax. Neither is any food that’s sold “ready to eat”, such as delis, fast food, or restaurant take-out.

  35. Oh, and the last time I intentionally drank regular pop was in 1985. Remember New Coke? Yeach. Diet Coke tasted more “normal” to me, so I switched. When they finally came out with “Classic Coke” my taste buds had adjusted – and “Classic” tasted like syrup.

  36. Give me Mexican Coke or Pepsi any day. Or Trader Joe’s blood orange soda. Even Safeway Organics makes a decent fruit soda. Or, if you live in PDX, Hot Lips Pizza makes a seasonal fruit soda that is foot-stomping good. You can keep the HFCS and the fake sweetener all for yourselves if you like it. But most of the day I’ll just drink plain tea or coffee or water, maybe a little bit of real cranberry or pomegranate juice thrown in water once a day.

    As for the soda, I might have a small serving of that stuff a few times in a week when I have a multi-serving bottle of it, or once when I buy a single serving bottle, and then none at all for weeks after that. Anyway, fifteen cents, they can bite me. I’d rather pay more for the REAL “real thing” and have it less often.

    It’s a poverty tax, really. I don’t see them taxing yuppies’ mojitos and appletinis.

  37. Mmm, Fresca. It’s one of the only diet beverages I actually like, along with Lipton diet citrus iced tea. But alas, I shouldn’t drink either of them, as artificial sweeteners make me crave real sugar horribly, and if I go with it, the resulting sugar nomming screws with my hypoglycemia. But seriously, if NY cares sooo much about my fat ass, do they really want me drinking something that makes me want baby donuts? :P

    Regarding Dr. Pepper with cane sugar: I’ve seen it at several gas stations (in Ohio) in glass bottles.

  38. Oo I do love a coke once in a while. HFCS and all (though if I’m somewhere that I can get a soda with cane sugar, I do like it better. I notice that difference much more with cream sodas than with colas, though). Saccharine is the only artificial sweetener that doesn’t disagree with me, and I’m not crazy about how it tastes, so no diet soda for me.

    Dani, I really thought that the hype about phosphoric acid was just a scare, and that it’s actually very harmless – like eating citric or acetic acids. We had full-strength phosphoric in the lab that they told us we could drink and we’d be just fine! It was a very pretty green color (okay, that was from the chromium they added. It’s not naturally that color). Can the acid actually reach your bones from your digestive tract in order to start dissolving them? Now I’m curious!

  39. killedbyllamas, hey, what kind of gas station, and near where in Ohio?!? Feel free to email me — avengangle AT yahoo DOT com — if you don’t want the entire world knowing where you shop. :)

    Because I need some, stat.

  40. I only want to add that, the reason they shouldn’t tax soda- diet or not- is because they’re not going to simultaneously put a tax on all the general day-to-day comforts of life. They’re not suddenly going to tax you for watching TV, or buying perfume, or drinking coffee, or buying movies, videogames, CDs/MP3s, or rulers. None of us NEED those things to live or get by, but they make life easier.

    I drink diet cola, but I don’t agree with the attitude, “I don’t drink it, so I don’t care if they tax soda.” It’s very dismissive of people who DO drink soda, who can’t necessarily afford special taxes on it. I like the taste and texture of my (diet) cola, and even if it’s not HEALTHY for me, it gives me one small comfort in my day to be able to have it, like some people have comfort in watching their fave TV program or fave movie, or listening to your favorite song.

  41. If it were up to me, I’d have significant taxes on all beverages other than juice & milk. In general, I favor high taxes on luxury items and minimal to no taxes on necessary items. Soda is a luxury item. I think that diet soda, carbonated water, bottled water, and non-carbonated sweetened drinks are luxury items too,and should be taxed as well.

  42. in addendum to what I said to Emi, there’s nothing in American culture that isn’t really a luxury item. You using the internet, Emi? Let’s tax that. Do you eat food you didn’t kill/gather yourself? Tax! Do you drive a car, or take the bus where you need to go? either way, let’s tax those things to being completely unaffordable except the really wealthy.

    NOTHING that we take for granted is NECESSARY, depending on your values. Our school buildings aren’t necessary, or apartment complexes; people could just as well build their own place. Where do we draw the line? (By the way, juice and milk are ALSO luxury items. Water all the way! And only if you fetch it yourself.)

  43. It seems to me that if you have to tax soda because it’s “unhealthy,” you have to tax a billion other things that are “unhealthy,” and you have to somehow find a way to define what is healthy and unhealthy for ALL PEOPLE. Which is impossible. Or am I missing something here?

  44. I like diet pop better (and shouldn’t really drink any pop because of some acid reflux related issues, but I haven’t totally mastered that one yet). Although in practice I don’t care much about the tax because I drink mostly diet and can afford $0.15 if I want a regular Coke on a given day, I do agree with Lindsay B. Certainly pop is not necessary for health and can only have a neutral or negative effect on it as far as anyone knows… but that can potentially be said of a lot of things (TV, video games, dyeing your hair, etc.–sure, these things can provide relaxation and other mental benefits, but for some people pop functions in a similar way, as a treat that brings a little pleasure to life and is therefore worthwhile) that we don’t seem to be interested in taxing. To me it’s similar to the often-cited fact that insurance companies like to deny coverage or increase premiums for fat people, but people who engage in society-sanctioned “risky” behavior like extreme sports are given a pass. The interesting question is why that is, and in this case why it is that the focus is on pop.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, other than the long-standing baddie categories of sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and weapons, the only things we as a society seem interested in applying new “vice taxes” to are various kinds of “bad-for-you” foods. Most fat people in my experience are totally fine with this as long as the reason for the tax is health instead of obesity, and don’t seem to believe that there is any more to the tax than simply “soda is bad for you and we tax things that are bad for you.” I am not slamming this point of view at all–I am definitely in favor of health, and it’s possible this is a good way to make people healthier, so basically I just disagree but don’t think others are necessarily “wrong.”

    It’s more of a personal bugaboo of mine than an FA-related argument, but I hate the moralism around food in this country, and I think the proposed tax is as much about that as about obesity, so therefore I am suspicious of it. I guess maybe I am more of a libertarian (only on things that are personal choices and don’t impact on society as a whole–and for all the arguments about the collective health of society, I still think one’s health is, in all ways that matter to me, completely personal) than I thought.

  45. I’m obese and I haven’t drunk a sugared pop since the 70s (remember Tab?). Guess it must be all the candy I eat. Oh wait, I’m allergic to corn syrup so I can’t eat sweets like that. Shoot, how are they going to boil me down to one simplistic action? I’m screwing everything up!

  46. OK, so apparently I’m the last person who actually drinks regular Coke. I also drink Mexican Coke (yay Texas!). While I can taste the difference, I don’t kid myself that the cane sugar is ‘better’ for me somehow (it’s probably better from the viewpoint of “big corn is bad,” which I totally get).

    I also drink a lot of coffee… WITH CREAM AND SUGAR! Horrors! Are they going to start taxing that too?

    Someone up-thread had a good point about how this would turn into a very slippery slope. I mean, you really don’t NEED white table sugar, do you? Or white flour, since whole wheat flour is OBVIOUSLY better?

    Oh, and I’m not embarrassed about drinking regular Coke. I like it, and really I don’t think I need to justify it further than that.

  47. Meowser said this:
    “It’s a poverty tax, really.”
    Which is what I was thinking as I was reading (and also, which is why it’s good to read all the comments before posting.)

    If obesity itself were to be taxed, it would also be paid by more poor people than rich people.

    I have more to say, but there’s a puzzle I have to do at the moment.

  48. When I was in high school, they changed the formulation of all the major soda pops — changed the type of sweetening mainly, and that is when I started drinking local brands and things like Faygo. The generic pops kept the older type of sweetening for a long time, but eventually they all switched over, too. About the time they changed the formulas, I really switched over to drinking coffee and tea, and I have never drunk as much pop, regular or diet since.

    Diet pop used to be vile, but now it’s pretty good. I like Fresca, The husband likes pop, so we usually keep some Diet Rite around. Once in a while, when I visit Kentucky, I will pick up an Ale-8. But most regular pop is too sweet, and besides, if I accidentally knock over a glass of diet, it doesn’t get sticky or attract ants. We use canned coke to clean the battery terminals in the car — gives me pause about the idea of drinking it any more.

    So generally such a tax would not impact my fatness much, and I agree, it is mainly a poverty tax, and a tax on the younger members of society.

  49. I drink Pepsi by the gallon and I FUCKING LOVE IT hahaha.

    It’s probably ruining my teeth more than it’s making me fatter (or not), but I just can’t get enough Pepsi. ::takes another sip::

  50. I must be virtuous for drinking diet Coke because of my hypoglycemia. Even though it rots the hell out of my teeth, which I need to chew. It all makes sense again.

  51. I can’t have anything with artificial sweetener in it because it makes me sick.

    This goes from saccharin on through nutra sweet and into splenda.

    I am also hypoglycemic, but that is not the issue.


  52. Let me be the one to speak up, I drink regular soda. First, artificial sweeteners, all of them, give me horrible migraines. I have a caffiene addiction that’s very hard for me to kick, partly because I wake up three days out of the week with a migraine and caffiene helps get over the pain. My husband drinks full sugared soda, he found caffiene is a good coping mechanism for his ADD, which we can’t afford to treat with actual drugs. Oh yeah, and the water in our building isn’t potable, which means we have to buy gallons of distilled water at the store to drink and cook with. When we can’t afford both soda and water, we buy and both drink soda.

    I like iced tea, but my husband doesn’t. I like coffee, but my husband doesn’t. So the cheapest way for both of us to get the necessary caffiene is sugared soda. He usually drinks most of it, while I switch to bottled water after the morning hit. Any additional tax on soda is a real hardship for us, and is only likely to make us lose more of his minimum wage paycheck every month buying it. But hey, as long as we can be punished for being poor, it’s all good, right?

  53. I like Dr. Pepper, and Mr. Pibb, and they have sugar, and non caffinated sodas. But very rarely do I drink just a coke or a pepsi.

    I actually am trying to cut down on my soda intake…. I should really be drinking water because I constantly feel dehydrated.

  54. I really, really wish I could be one of the many who say “regular Coke? Bah, it’s too sweet!”

    I have only put one thing in my mouth that I thought was “too sweet.” It was a cheese blintz with some hyoer-sweetened cherry pie filling. It happened once, this thing called “too sweet.”

    I’ve drunk diet coke since college because I was convinced the two cans of coke I drank a day were giving me a fat ass. My ass got fatter after the repeated restricting and an ED.

    I still think coke is a mouthful of heaven. Elixir of the gods, regular coke.

  55. I’m allergic to Nutra-Sweet. It causes migraines

    >>>It causes migraines in some people, yes. Different people have reactions to different foods.<<<

    Failure of my sentence structure: I meant that my allergic reaction to Nutra-Sweet is migraines.

    Oh ferfuckssake, why don’t all these people who think they win the gold medal in the Humanity Olympics just get together and tax anyone they find unattractive, unsatisfactory, or insufficiently excited about the things they personally enjoy?? At least that would be straightforward.

    THAT’S what I’m talking ’bout.

  56. Now I’m kind of curious as to what soft drinks with high-fructose corn syrup taste like – I’m from Australia, and we have a big sugar cane industry, so most everything is sweetened with sugar.

    When I was in Australia, I found the Coke too syrupy. Too me a while to figure out it was because it was made with cane sugar. High-fructose corn syrup Coke is more bubbly and lighter and a teensy bit less sweet than the cane variety. Which is weird, because everything else in Australia was less sweet than the US equivalent: Breakfast cereals, for example.

    During Passover, Coke will release “kosher for Passover” Coke in Jewish areas. Corn is not kosher for Passover and so it’s made with cane. So people who prefer the cane variety will stock up a year’s supply every Passover.

  57. Our school buildings aren’t necessary, or apartment complexes; people could just as well build their own place. Where do we draw the line?

    You do know that we have school and property taxes, right?

  58. We only buy regular soda when someone is puke-sick – maybe this is a holdover from a childhood so long ago that even Dirt wasn’t born yet – in any case, regular Coca Cola has always worked to settle stomachs in my household. For us, this would be a tax on medicine, not our fatty fat fat fatness.

  59. School taxes aren’t use-based taxes, though, nor should they be. And property taxes, at least in theory, place a heavier burden on the rich than sales tax, since the amount of people’s income that they spend on consumer goods doesn’t increase linearally wiht their salary. I think it does get tricky to say that we should be taxing luxuries only. Not impossible, but tricky. Should we tax clothes from Saks but not Walmart? I don’t know; it’s a tough line.

  60. Fair enough, LilahMorgan, but I think slippery slope arguments are specious in most cases (in fact, it’s a classic fallacy). People like Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum are very fond of them when it comes to being less permissive, and people on different sides of the aisle(s) are fond of them in other circumstances. But saying “where do you draw the line” as though there should be no lines at all always strikes me as a bit of a copout when we’re talking about democratic government; we have to draw lines to make society work. Like you said, it’s not impossible, just tricky — it makes it even more obviously hypocritical when the stated reason for drawing a line (like between diet and regular soda) is self-evidently false.

  61. Lindsay B, my first post may have been badly worded, but I actually have thought this through somewhat. Take cars for example – arguably necessary, arguably luxury. If I were king of the universe, i’d probably say the first 10K or 20K towards a car has no sales tax, then dramatically increase the sales tax – people who can afford to buy a 60K car can afford a high sales tax. People who buy a 5,000 used car probably can’t.

    I think that in this day & age, internet is more of a necessity than a luxury, ESPECIALLY for people who can’t really afford it – people who can’t afford the internet probably can’t afford all sorts of things the internet gives access to. And I see school as a necessity – so my idea gov’t would probably subsidize the internet & school.

    Now I’m horribly off topic so I’ll stop.

  62. Oh yeah, I think we do HAVE to draw lines. I’m just not convinced the luxury/non-luxury divide is the best one, thoguh it may be part of the puzzle (like taxing food from restaurants but not from grocery stores seems reasoanble to me) and I don’t think school taxes or property taxes are good examples of implementing that in our own society right now.

  63. I don’t see them taxing yuppies’ mojitos and appletinis.

    Actually, they do. I don’t know what the taxes are in NY, but here in California the tax on spirits runs $3.30 a gallon, and on beer and wine 20 cents a gallon. There’s also sales tax on alcoholic beverages, which in my neck of the woods runs just shy of ten percent.

    All sales and point-of-sales taxes disproportionately affect the poor, however, so on that we agree. And they apply to a lot more than some arguably unnecessary foods and drinks. Like clothes, for instance. Personally I consider clothes a necessity. Also shoes. Eyeglasses for those who need them, like me. Blankets. Soap. Etc.

    As for the added tax on soda proposed in NY … well, it sure makes explicit the popular association of fatness with sin, doesn’t it? And apparently there’s nothing like a new blue law to make the unsufferably self-righteous feel nice and cozy on a cold, cold, night.

    Fucking asshats.

  64. And apparently there’s nothing like a new blue law to make the unsufferably self-righteous feel nice and cozy on a cold, cold, night.

    Eucritta, omg, justified rancor notwithstanding, that was a lovely turn of phrase. *tips hat*

    Seriously, this may sound strange, but I’m dissertating today (have to get a draft of a chapter in by tomorrow, eep!), and sometimes even reading a little bit of very-nicely-put-together prose can help me get my own writing mojo back. So… thanks! :)

    (That also explains why I spend so much time at SP when I should be working. There are SO many good writers here – bloggers and commenters alike – and it reminds me why I love words.)

  65. For those who like soda with cane sugar you can often find Coke made with cane suger in Mexican or Latin American grocery stores. I like Coke Zero and drink it nearly every day but when I want a soda with sugar I seek out local/regional brands eg, Jones Soda, Thomas Kemper, Boylan (all East Coast I think).

  66. Besides, does anyone believe for a minute that diet sodas won’t have their prices raised to match, with all the profits going straight to the cola companies?

  67. pop = gross. I never drink it, excepting the very occasional 7 up when my stomach is upset or something. My bf never drinks pop, either. We both avoid caffeine.

    But I guess since we’re OMG FAT we’re doing it wrong, or something. I guess there’s hidden fat producing minerals in all that water we’re guzzling. The horror, the horror.

  68. Fresca is delicious. And when mixed with red wine makes a tasty poor man’s sangria.

    I love diet Pepsi. My mom mainlines regular Coke. And yeah, she’s rail thin… but she has a boatload of allergies and health issues. I’d say on balance I’m healthier.

  69. I’m pretty sure Jones Soda is in Seattle (and before that Vancouver, BC).

    I know Thomas Kemper was originally based in Washington (state).

    Boylan, I’ll grant you, was started on the East Coast.

  70. Bean: all 3 of those brands are nation-wide, with both Jones and Thomas Kemper being from Washington state originally. I think Boylan is legitimately from the east coast.

    Whole Foods and similar do a great job of convincing you you’re buying local even when you’re not…kind of evil.

  71. Ok so if we’re going the way of tobacco with soda (meaning, the legislators say it kills you but instead of doing something about it we plan to make money out of your addiction), then why stop at soda? Soda has two constituents – sugar (or HFCS) and water.

    Presuming water is not the problem then it must be the sweetener that the legislators blame for obesity. Why then are they not ‘fat taxing’ everything that contains it?

    Or even more to the point, if it really is dangerous why allow it to be sold at all? If laissez-fair market economics is the answer then why is rat poison not sold in refrigerated cans (but heavily taxed of course)?

  72. Also: Don’t a lot of people get hungrier when they drink diet soda? I swear I do. Once in a very great while I’ll want one and let me tell you, it does NOT save me calories to drink it.

    When I mentioned “mojitos and appletinis,” I was thinking more about them taxing the mixers than the spirits themselves — that is, the booze has one tax, the mixers another tax. Since, obvy, a sweet mixed drink has more kcal than straight alcohol.

    I like Thomas Kemper a lot. Most of Jones I find a bit too cloying. But my favorite root beer is probably Natural Brew, made by Smuckers, and it’s cheaper than a lot of the other cane sodas, too.

  73. Alright, well, admittedly my first few responses were more impassioned then they were practical, but I was feeling a bit offended at the attitude.

    Taxes on those things(cars, schools, houses, etc) are more of a tax for purchasing a product, not for USE of the product. The tax on the soda is entirely arbitrary, designed to punish people for enjoying a luxury.

    I agree that slippery slope arguments are always relative, but I wasn’t trying to argue “slippery slope”. I was arguing, What IS the line between necessary and luxury? Cars are a luxury instead of riding a bicycle, or just walking. But they become necessary in cities that are too big to traverse on foot, unless you’re willing to spent insane amounts of time walking.

    But cars are still a LUXURY, by some definitions, because technically we can move around without them, but they make moving around faster.

    I’m aware there are taxes for schools and property. I wasn’t talking about taxing them, I’m saying, “Hey, THOSE are a luxury too! Why aren’t those dern kids building their OWN teaching huts?” (sarcastically. I don’t actually believe in the idea).

    The internet is a luxury of information connection. It isn’t necessary for independent survival. *shrug* But I agree that it IS necessary, for all that it does for us. I just disagree that it’s okay for any one person to determine what’s necessary for someone else. Or even any one group of persons.

  74. Liza you are right with the annoyance of all this nutrition bull-shit right now. I am so sick and tired of it and it is not even addressing the health issue in a productive way.

    I walk outside my door in the morning and the first thing I see is an ad by Mt. Siani saying “Control your calories, eat less” … I walk into grab a bite somewhere and see all the damn calories posted everywhere, now on the subways there are ads for the calorie postings saying ‘Eat Less, Weigh Less’ …. what the hell is up with all this and who calls a tax an ‘Obesity Tax’ all it is is the government coming up with anyway they can to get more money while trying to look responsible… they just look like greedy stupid people.

    They do not have the right to do this and it pisses me off and frankly all of it pisses me off because I do not think it is going to do anything for the ‘so called obesity epidemic’ and instead is going to lead to the number of eating disorders sky rocket….

    Oh and they are cutting health care funding at the same time…. yeah right they are trying to do something for anyones greater health!

    I am sooooo outraged by all of this!!!!!

  75. OMG I love Boylan sodas.

    Fwiw, if you live in an old building with lead in the pipes, you DO need bottled water (or filtered, which is what I did, but you have to be pretty religious about changing the filters). I don’t consider non-toxic water a luxury so much as a necessity for living.

    Lindsay, I think this stuff all exists within the context of living in this society, so it can only go so far. In many areas cars really are a necessity because there is no way to get food without them. (And we pay taxes for buying and using them.)

  76. In Australia we have a sales tax which is levied on most things, but NOT on fresh food – fruit, vegetables, milk, water, meat. Basically, the less processed it is, the less likely it is to be taxed. This was presented as a health promotion (and a way to support Australian producers) rather than a fat tax.

    I have calcium absorption issues due to thyroid problems, and it shows in my teeth. The dentist asked me, “Do you drink cola?” I said no, “What about other soft drinks?”. Again, no. “What about diet cola?” “No, I don’t like soft drinks.” Apparently, this is very hard to believe! I’d say it was because I’m fat, but the dentist was otherwise so good and so respectful that I’m hoping it was just because most people drink some kind of soda.

  77. Volcanista, I know that. I tried to acknowledge that.

    But it seems obvious to us that we NEED cars because they make the community structured around them easier to get through. but we managed to live hundreds, thousands of years without cars, and we COULD go without them. It would just be beyond horribly inconvenient to do so.

    Which is my point. Admittedly, soda is not nearly on the same scale as cars, but my point is that, who gets to make that call? The people who need it or the people who want to decide what other people need?

  78. A Sarah, *blush* — thank you.

    Also, as I read of folks’s doctoral trials and tribulations? I’m both mightily impressed and glad I didn’t go on. I thought my thesis was work …!

  79. Cindy: “I really, really wish I could be one of the many who say “regular Coke? Bah, it’s too sweet!”
    I have only put one thing in my mouth that I thought was “too sweet.” It was a cheese blintz with some hyoer-sweetened cherry pie filling. It happened once, this thing called “too sweet.””

    This this this for me….I have a sweet tooth big time. And, I do admit to drinking coke and pepsi from time to time, not every day, but regularly enough. To add a tax to soda seems assanine to me, because they could start taxing chips, cookies, candy, cakes, ice cream, etc., etc., and I think it might be better to just keep taxes off healthy foods. Like the commenter from Australia said, (sorry, can’t remember your posting name) but keeping produce and other fresh, non-processed foods as tax-free as possible would help consumers and producers a great deal.

  80. I don’t think regular soda is too sweet, exactly – it’s too something, maybe heavy, or syrupy, or something, but I don’t know about too sweet. The only time I ever had something I thought of as too sweet was a quintuple chocolate cake at a restaurant in Colorado – I had to stop and eat saltines partway through it to finish. I soldiered on, though, and managed to eat it all. :)

  81. Don’t a lot of people get hungrier when they drink diet soda?

    Yeah, there’s been studies done. When you taste something sweet, your body expects the calories from sugar. So when you don’t get them, your body wants them.

    As for the tax… I have a problem with luxury taxes on things like this. It’s so easy for me to say: “Well nobody needs pop” when I can easily afford an extra $0.15 cents a can, and when my indulgences are fancy coffees or red wine or other things that cost a lot more than pop anyway. But to price one affordable indulgence out of reach of people with less money when times are already hard and then tell them: “Well you didn’t need it anyway, fatty”…. well that’s just shitty.

  82. I’m with Becky. I think it’s shitty to to tax real soda. The only people I know who drink sugar soda a LOT are teens and working class people. My brothers and their friends working construction used to drink regular soda all day long. They did hard physical work and the sugar gave them energy. Meanwhile, at the office where I worked, everyone sat at their desk drinking coffee, tea or diet soda all day long- we just wanted to stay awake. Seems like NY picked an item they could safely tax without having to worry about a big an uproar from anyone they think matters. I mean, what if they’d chosen to tax all drinks that have no nutritive value? Imagine if diet soda and coffee had extra tax slapped on it because nobody really “needs” those things?

    Are they taxing those energy drinks too? My teen drinks them and turns into a hyped-up mess. I’d rather he drank Coke – and not the diet kind because we both get sick from artificial sweetners. Soda manufacturers should fortify their products with vitamins and then they can call them health drinks too.

  83. I would like to have them explain how Soda sugar/calories are fundamentally different than any other sugar and how there explanation that cutting out 150 calories adds up to pounds after a few weeks. Do they really think that those calories just sit there and form fat because they were consumed in soda form while other sugars from any other foods are burned off. A calorie is a calorie and your body doesn’t care where you get it from when it decides which ones to burn and which ones to store. They act like you have a special calorie bank your body fills with calories from just “junk” food while it chooses to burn the ones from “good” food.

    I am apposed to all forms of luxury tax because it is not their place to decide what I need based on their personal preferences. Maybe they should try not wasting money next time they need to balance the budget instead of coming up with random ways to steal more. Apparently they are taxing IPOD music downloads also….. ya that’s going to work.

  84. I wonder about the consumption of soda by poor people vs. wealthy people. Poor people are much more likely to smoke, so a 100 percent tax on cigarettes is a huge increase of taxes on the poor. If they’re more likely to drink soda (and that wouldn’t surprise me considering how cheap soda is compared to healthier beverages), this tax will affect them much more.

    In the end, I think this is more about the government collecting extra tax revenue from people who won’t fight back and/or who are unfairly maligned by the culture at large.

  85. It’s just wrong…

    1. calling it obesity tax.
    2. you already pay tax on soda even though it is a beverage and should be nontaxble like food…

  86. I LOVE my regular coke. It is tasty and cinnamon-y. I drink about five cans a day. Except when I switch out v-8 every other can, which I often do. I think one venti hot chocolate from Starbucks probably equals three cokes, maybe four.

    Coke zero has a nasty aftertaste that reminds me of those horribly flavored circus peanut nuclear orange, mealy, waxy candy. *shudders* Am I just too old and nobody else remembers these – they were DISGUSTING. Oh, there’s a Wikipedia page on them. They apparently still exist. Ugh. Give me regular coke any old day.

    BTW, has anyone else noticed the trend to label things that never had fat to begin with as “fat free”? Pretzels and saltines, for instance. Fig Newtons. I actually saw carrots advertised as fat free once. The latest fat free product – fruit juice. Which used to be teeming with fat…oh wait, it DIDN’T!

    Then there’s the coworker’s 6 month old nephew put on a skim milk diet because breast milk has too much fat. Well, yeah it does, if you WANT your kid to be neurologically impaired for life due to malnutrition (insufficient dietary fat can cause intellectual and physical developmental disabilities and myelin sheath problems).

    I know I keep bringing that poor baby up, but I just never get over how evil the doctor and parents have to be. I mean, how could you NOT know that this is malpractice, as a parent? Breast milk called unhealthy for babies – how stupid or vain would you have to be, exactly, to follow that advice?

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