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CSPI Nonsense on Soda Taxes

2 min readBy: Gerald Prante

So the nanny-state advocates at the Center for Science in the Public Interest have put together a tool encouraging states (and the federal government) to institute taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. es on soda. The FAQ is rather humorous and often lacks reason and is contradictory in places. Let’s look at a sample:

Q: Isn’t a soft drink tax turning the state into the “food police?” Why does the government have a right to say what I should eat or drink?

A: Most states already tax soft drinks (or snack foods) in one way or another (usually a sales taxA sales tax is levied on retail sales of goods and services and, ideally, should apply to all final consumption with few exemptions. Many governments exempt goods like groceries; base broadening, such as including groceries, could keep rates lower. A sales tax should exempt business-to-business transactions which, when taxed, cause tax pyramiding. on vended foods). A soft drink tax does not prohibit people from buying sugary beverages. People could choose to buy fewer soft drinks and save money and improve their health—or they could switch to diet sodas, water, seltzer water, or fat-free or low-fat milk, which are not taxed. And, of course, the government taxes countless other products from gasoline to beer.

First, CSPI makes the excuse that it’s okay to tax soda because government already taxes soda, which is an absurd argument in itself. It’s like pro-Iraq war citizens answering the question of whether the war was a mistake by saying we’re already there. It says nothing. But even factually, CSPI is misleading because it says that states already tax soft drinks and then says that people could switch to diet sodas that “are not taxed”. That’s false. The same statutes that currently apply to taxing most soft drinks also apply to taxing diet soda.

Then, note this sentence: “A soft drink tax does not prohibit people from buying sugary beverages.”

This argument is just ridiculous. I guess if there was a tax of $1,000 per can of soda, you could say the same thing. Soda wouldn’t be “prohibited” in the sense that it was illegal.

I guess if government levied a tax on abortion, Planned Parenthood shouldn’t complain. Or if the government levied a tax on speech, the ACLU should keep quiet. Or if the government imposed a $1 million tax on guns, the NRA couldn’t call it an infringement on gun rights because people can still own guns (if they’re willing/able to). Using punitive taxes in order to deter behavior (while maintaining the behavior’s “legal” status) is really no different than making the behavior illegal and then imposing a fine on the activity.

It’s regulation via taxation and is indeed the food police.