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Utah State Rep. Who Floated “Caffeine Tax” Idea Says He Was Joking

1 min readBy: Josh Barro

Utah State Rep. Craig Frank (R-American Fork) made headlines this week with his request that the state of Utah study the imposition of an excise 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. on caffeinated beverages. Frank contends that caffeine consumption is addictive and can cause hypertension and “spontaneous abortion,” thus potentially meriting a special tax.

While no state currently levies a “Caffeine Tax”, it’s not a wholly implausible extension of existing “sin taxes” on goods like cigarettes, liquor, and gasoline. (In New York, Governor David Paterson recently proposed an “Obesity Tax” on sugary drinks, though he withdrew the proposal after it found little legislative support.) A caffeine tax seems particularly saleable in Utah, where some Mormons interpret the church’s warning against “hot drinks” as extending to caffeinated beverages at all temperatures.

Yesterday, Rep. Frank posted a video (embedded below) to his blog, clarifying that he did not mean to make a serious policy proposal. Rather, he wanted to make a point about cigarette taxes. He opposes proposals to raise Utah’s cigarette tax, noting that discriminatory taxes on minorities are not the right way to fund government.

In the video, Frank praises the caffeine tax as having a relatively broad base, as there are more caffeine drinkers than smokers. But really, he’s saying the right way to fund government is through broad-based taxes on income, sales and property. Sounds the representative has been reading our principles of sound tax policy.