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Tax on sodas and trans-fat?

Mississippi is one of many states that has increased the tax on cigarettes.

For those of you who believe that the tobacco tax means your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has been mangled, you may be wondering: What’s next?

How about a tax on sodas or trans fat?

With all of the drama surrounding the healthcare debate, there have been a lot of questions about how to pay for an overhaul of the system.

It appears we need about $1 trillion to do that.

And one way of raising that money is a tax on junk food, with an emphasis on sodas.

Here in Mississippi, we eat a lot of foods with trans fats.

You know, that special kind of fat caused by the hydrogenation process, which is usually used to preserve food.

Since 2007, New York City has a ban on trans fats.  Many other cities, as well as the State of Maryland, are considering similar bans.

The Indiana State Fair banned trans fats, as did Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC and McDonald’s. Even the Girl Scouts have taken trans fats out of their cookies.

But what we are talking about is a tax on all types of snack foods.

As for sodas, they are at the heart of the America’s health problem, public health experts say.  Therefore, a healthy tax could be good for everyone involved. 

With so much money being spent on trans-fatty chips and sugar-laden sodas, the government could benefit with tax money that would then go into the healthcare system to treat — those same folks who have been eating and drinking all of that junk.

There is no shortage of evidence showing that consumption of trans fats raises our “bad cholesterol” level, which significantly increases the risk of heart disease. There is an equal amount of evidence showing that a soda a day is like sucking down 100 pounds of sugar a year.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, more than 12.5 million Americans have coronary heart disease, and more than 500,000 of them die each year. That makes heart disease the leading cause of death in the United States.

And consumption of sodas and trans fats, combined, is the leading cause of coronary heart disease in America.

Last year, at the Delta Economic Symposium, Dr. Kenneth Cooper agreed, warning of an epidemic of heart disease in America.

Cooper is founder and chairman of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Texas and a leading authority on heart disease.

A possible epidemic?

In Mississippi, in particular, heart disease is already an epidemic.

In fact, Delta Regional Medical Center anesthesiologist Dr. John Turner of Greenville says that we are at the epicenter of the problem.

“Mississippi has more cardiovascular disease than any other state in the nation,” Turner has said, citing studies from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association.

“They further define the problem in the Mississippi Delta. They even further define what the Delta is, and they say there are 10 counties surrounding or in close proximity to, they don’t say the Delta, they say Greenville, Miss. These are national leaders who are watching all the epidemiology.”

A regular perusal of obituaries in Mississippi newspapers will show that we are dying young,  in our 30s, 40s, and 50s.

So, there are two ways of looking at this.

One — The tax would be, helping to pay for the people who are going to end up back in the system with heart disease and diabetes.

Two — Many would benefit by stepping away from the snack machine and not eating or drinking as many snacks to begin with. 

The director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Kelly Brownell, told a national publication the tax would have a big payoff.

“Using a tax, much as has happened with tobacco, to try to change consumption patterns in a way that would benefit overall public health and provide a very much-needed revenue for programs, seems like a home run,” Brownell says.

Smokers, snackers and libertarians of all stripes insist that using a tax to control behavior is anti-American, the imposing of a de facto fine on people who are acting within the law. But as New York City showed, government will step in and outlaw that which is harmful. For me, that’s too extreme. I say tax ’em. 


Contact MBJ managing editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or 601-364-1018


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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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