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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Taxing The Fat

    A few months ago, Governor David Paterson proposed a soda tax. It may be true that 25 percent of New Yorkers are obese, and it is probably true that sugary sodas are contributing heavily to this. First of all, they’re cheap. You can often find a 2-liter bottle for around or even under a dollar. Second of all, it’s easy to get addicted. I know this personally, since I was addicted to Pepsi until two years ago.

    The tax that Gov. Paterson wants to implement involves only non-diet sodas. Initially, it sounds like a good idea. Ideally, people will see the tax, be inspired to not drink sugary soda, immediately switch to healthier drinks and New York will slim down while making money off the people who quit drinking sugary soda more slowly than others.

    Unfortunately, things rarely work like this. What will likely happen should this tax be implemented is not dissimilar what happened in most preschools when sugary snacks were banned. The banning of the snacks didn’t stop children from eating them — it just upset them and, incredibly, created a market where they could trade such snacks after school or behind their teachers’ backs.

    While I’m not suggesting that a soda tax will create an underground black market of cheap, sugary soda, I do think that most people will feel similar to how those children felt — as if we’re being punished for liking something. Being taught to reign in a sweet tooth can be a positive thing for kids to experience, but soda-purchasing adults are not children and government is not our parents.

    The first problem with this tax is that it won’t stop people from drinking soda, most probably plenty of people will be willing to pay more. Understandably, this persistence will raise money for the state, but one has to wonder; at what cost. If we allow ourselves to be punished for making choices that the government doesn’t agree with, what other things do we enjoy that will be the next to ‘fall’ under the taxman’s eye?

    Secondly, if people begin to drink more diet soda, because of the tax on the real stuff, one also has to wonder whether that is a preferable alternative to regular soda. Diet soda uses artificial sweeteners, and despite being “diet,” still manages to pack in, on average, 140 calories per can.

    Additionally, scientific studies show that people who ingest artificial sweeteners don’t simply stop there; they, in a complex physiological response, feel a drive to eat more, caloric, sugars as well. The studies point to a biological imperative to eat high calorie food, a trait that would have been selected for by the harsh conditions in our evolutionary past. What this means, is that we can’t tax away the human desire for sweet sugars, so creating an economic preference for diet sodas could, in turn, result in people adding more sugar to their diets and worsening the obesity problem. This is not to mention the alleged affects of artificial sweeteners on general health, as well.

    While this tax appears noble and seems to propose a good idea that might help society, it pays to remember that the government’s job is to provide us with the information and security and let us have the freedom to make choices for ourselves. Should this tax be passed, that freedom is exactly what we might see beginning to slip away.

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