Health Taxes: Is the Cost Worth It?

Citizens of Philadelphia protested in outrage when the city council decided in a 13-4 vote to enact a tax on sweetened beverages throughout the city. Every ounce of sweetened beverage now bears a 1.5 cent tax. The city’s reasoning was twofold: on the one hand, it wanted to reduce the amount of sugar the citizens were consuming, and on the other, the city needed funds to erect playgrounds and keep up city parks. Now in its third month of existence, the city is raking in money, but not as much as it had hoped.

The idea of sugar taxes or fat taxes is not a new one, and they always lead to a spritely debate about individual autonomy versus the “public good.” While citizens and legislators go back and forth on the morality and legality of such taxes, one huge question always remain: do they really make citizens healthier?

At the moment, most of the evidence is pointing to “yes.”

Several counties in the state of New York enacted a law to ban all artificial trans fats from use in restaurants. Unlike naturally occurring fats like those in milk and some cuts of meats, artificial trans fats are made in a factory by combining hydrogen with vegetable oils to make them solid. These fats are inexpensive, and prior to the 1990s, we had no idea how bad they were for for cholesterol levels and heart attack risks.

Since the trans fat ban has been enacted, the eleven counties with the ban in place saw a nearly 8% decline in hospital admissions for heart attacks versus the twenty five that had no such ban in place. A nation-wide trans fat ban will kick into effect in 2018, citing serious public health concerns and studies that have found that trans fats are no longer generally recognized as safe. If all goes according to plan, no food manufacturers in the US can use trans fats in food production, so the US diet should be generally free from the toxic composite.

In 2014, Berkeley, California, enacted a soda tax as a means of reducing the instances of type two diabetes and obesity-linked maladies. Similarly to Philadelphia’s, Berkeley imposed an additional 1 cent tax per fluid ounce of sugared beverage. Within the first year, according to Time magazine, “They found that o ne year after the tax took effect, sales of sugar-sweetened drinks fell by close to 10%, and sales of water increased in Berkeley by about 16%. Sales of unsweetened teas, milk and fruit juices also went up, suggesting people were substituting their sugary drinks with healthier alternatives.”

Imaginably, companies like Pepsi-Cola are fighting such restrictions tooth and nail, claiming that the government is trying to “babysit” each and every citizen. However, for heart health, the numbers are pretty clear. People who take in less sugar and fat have fewer heart health problems. While the actual agency of reducing these substance will have to be battled out in court, no one can argue that a healthier populous is a happier populous.