The Slippery Slope of Sin Taxes

April 7, 2006

A recent article from the Ludwig von Mises Institute titled “Soda and the Sin Tax” attacks the movement underway to use taxes to regulate health and behavior, especially the purchase of “junk food.”

Author Robert P. Murphy’s trenchant analysis of an AP article titled “Scientists in food fight over soda” makes the case against using taxes to affect consumers’ dietary choices:

The [AP] article begins by informing us of new reports in science journals that “add evidence to the theory that soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks don’t just go hand-in-hand with obesity, but actually cause it.” The point is important because “proving this would be a scientific leap that could help make the case for higher taxes on soda ….

… I … remember when libertarians and conservatives would object to government interference with tobacco and alcohol by asking, “What next? Will the government start taxing fatty foods and put warning labels on fettuccine alfredo?” I can honestly remember that the proponents of the “serious” regulations dismissed this particularly slippery slope argument as absolutely absurd, that nobody would ever advocate a tax on fatty foods. And yet now, Barry Popkin at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill defends the taxes on soda by pointing out, “We’ve done it with cigarettes.”

In twenty years, when someone proposes that slothful television viewing be regulated, some scientist will no doubt say, “We did it with Coke.”

As the Tax Foundation has written before, the sole purpose of taxation is to raise revenue for the operations of government, not to change people’s behavior, implement moral values, or promote taxpayers’ health.

For more information on excise taxes, click here.


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