Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sweet Tax is Sour

I too hate to see people abusing themselves by being so overweight so I can understand why legislators would like to curb obesity. But the tax proposals before the RI House and Senate miss the mark.

If we really want to improve Rhode Islanders' health the law would require that the tax money generated would be used solely for increasing education, nutrition and exercise programs. Adding a few cents tax to sweet drinks will simply further burden and mostly for the people who can least afford it.

It won't take too long for the added cost to become 'normal' and any possible behavior modification will slowly return to pre-tax levels.

Be honest. It's at least as much a fund raising effort as an effort to improve the public health. If we were seriously trying to improve health perhaps reducing the cost of those items we find beneficial would be more effective. How about targeted income rebates for milk, fruits, vegetables? I suspect it would be far more effective in changing eating habits in the long run.

We all know that the sweet tax will simply find its way into the general revenue stream for cities and towns and the people will remain overweight.

On a slightly different note I think there is a better way to inform people about the sugar content of foods. Instead of the abstraction of calories I'd recommend indicating sugar cube equivalents. It's much more impressive to see that a cup of apple slices contains 2 1/2 sugar cubes and a Snickers bar is like eating 13 1⁄2 cubes of sugar.