Friday, December 19, 2008

Super Nanny Paterson

Governor David Paterson wants to reduce the obesity epidemic, and believes that his 18% soda tax will do the trick: "If we are to succeed in reducing childhood obesity, we must reduce consumption of sugared beverages. That is the purpose of our proposed tax. We estimate that an 18 percent tax will reduce consumption by five percent. Our tax would apply only to sugared drinks -- including fruit drinks that are less than 70 percent juice -- that are nondiet. The $404 million this tax would raise next year will go toward funding public health programs, including obesity prevention programs, across New York state."

"We estimate..," but by what measure? Whose study does this rely on, and where was it peer reviewed? But the governor, unencumbered by any data, plows ahead undeterred-falsely comparing soda consumption with tobacco: "In recent decades, anti-smoking campaigns have raised awareness. Smoking bans have been enacted and enforced. And, perhaps most importantly, we have raised the price of cigarettes. In June, New York state raised the state cigarette tax an additional $1.25. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, this increase alone will prevent more than 243,000 kids from smoking, save more than 37,000 lives and produce more than $5 billion in health care savings."

Let's have some straight talk: cigarettes are killers; Coca Cola may cause tooth decay and, if you drink too much, you might get fat; that is, if you don't exercise and eat a balanced diet. So there really isn't any fair comparison-and the governor, by doing so, is ultimately both self serving and invidious. Which doesn't mean that we shouldn't look to educate people about eating healthier foods; but where does this slippery slope end?

This doesn't stop Paterson from saying the following: "These taxes may be unpopular, but their benefits are undeniable. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, for the first time in generations, fewer than 20 percent of Americans smoked. Lung cancer rates have finally begun to decline. As a result, we are all healthier."

But the tax on tobacco is, unlike this soda levy, confiscatory-with a huge percentage of the price of a pack of cigarettes going to various layers of government. If you want to smoke, you are forced to cough up hundreds of taxed dollars to the government. How much you need to tax soda-or Twinkies for that matter-in order to reduce consumption is simply not known; and the 5% figure is just picked out of the governor's...fertile imagination.

So, what all this means, is that some of the lowest income New Yorkers who enjoy a Pepsi will be forced to divert a portion of their hard earned income to the government because of Governor Nanny. Now we happen to be diet soda aficionados, but we spent the better part of our childhood with the regular variety-remaining skinny as a rail for the duration.

This supposed well meaning government imposition is the start of a never ending invasion of our privacy, as well as our liberty. And health becomes a pretext for standard government taking: "But to make serious progress in this effort, we need to reduce the consumption of high-calorie drinks like nondiet soda among children and adults. I understand that New Yorkers may not like paying a surcharge for their favorite drinks. But surely it's a small price to pay for our children's health."

Taking a close look at many of our elected officials, however, one thing is crystal clear: we definitely shouldn't be taking health advice from politicians; especially those who are just using health to reduce our net assets. Soda syrup makes a slippery slope indeed.