Dec 042009
Authors: Joanna Harter

I am writing in response to Ian Bezek’s article, ‘Taxing soda and candy will hurt poor, not solve obesity.’ I am glad to see that Bezek is analyzing the likely results of this tax, and I agree that taxing candy and soft drinks won’t seriously reduce their consumption, and that people will, in fact, just spend more money to buy their junk foods.

But Bezek, in some instances, under-analyzed the issue. The taxes from soda and candy are intended to help make up the budget cuts to public schools, so I don’t think that health was the main reason for this new tax. Soft drinks and candy are simply seen as an unnecessary good that many people, including the poor, can easily do without, should the added tax become such a burden.

Ironically, should this tax be approved, the Colorado state government would become dependent on the sales of soda and candy while simultaneously speaking against eating junk food, perhaps creating a conflict of motives.

Of course, Bezek is absolutely right that it is unfair for the poor to have to “pay up” for this tax, since they will feel the impact of increased prices more than wealthier people. In a more equal society, your income would determine your sales taxes to make things fairer, but who’s going to support that, right?

However, Bezek writes that “studies have found that consumption of soda has barely budged in states with soda taxes” and that “a soda tax would have to charge at least a penny per ounce to actually impact consumers’ behavior.” The actual tax for Colorado would be a 2.9 percent sales tax for soda and candy. So, instead of paying $1 for a candy bar, you’d pay $1.03.

That’s not much, and, even despite the economic recession, I have a hard time believing that even the poor are upset about this. Toward the end of the article, Bezek claims that this tax would “set a precedent that the government should be watching over your kitchen, making sure you eat wisely — we don’t need the government telling us what to eat.”

And here is where Bezek should have brought up the issue of food subsidies. The U.S. government has been encouraging us to follow certain diets for decades. The U.S. spends billions of dollars subsidizing the agricultural sector, but these subsidies are incredibly biased in terms of which industries benefit from them.

From 1995 to 2005, do you know what percent of federal subsidies for food production the meat and dairy industries received? It was 73.8 percent. Do you know how much the fruit and vegetable industries received? They got .37 percent. Talk about the government “watching over your kitchen.”

A 3 cent tax on candy and soda should be the least of our worries. I highly doubt that the purpose of Governor Ritter’s proposed candy and soft drink tax is to make people healthier. Incentives could do a lot more good in this area than penalties.

For example, why not use some of those beef and cheese subsidy funds to help make organic produce cheaper so that poor people can afford healthy, high-quality food just like rich people. How many times have you heard that eating red meat contributes to cancer and high-cholesterol and fatty foods like cheese and ice cream contribute to heart disease?

On the other hand, how many times have you heard that fruits and vegetables have cancer-fighting properties? If we’re going to subsidize food, wouldn’t it make sense to subsidize more of the healthy foods? If we’re not going to subsidize any foods (because we’re supposed to have a market economy right?), why not use that extra money to fund public schools? Politics, power and money.

Anyway, kudos to you, Bezek, for offering a good perspective on the inequality inherent in this proposed tax.

Joanna Harter is a senior natural resources recreation and tourism major. Letters and feedback can be sent to

 Posted by at 3:32 pm

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