Close your eyes and pretend you're at Sugarcreek. Do it now. On the counter in front of you sits a pack of Marlboro Reds and a 12-pack of Yuengling (easy there, cowboy). It's going to be a good night.
You hand the nice lady $20. You then hand her some more money, because it occurs to me as I'm writing this that a 12-pack and cigarettes cost more than $20 when you factor in taxes.
And that's the point. Tobacco and alcohol are taxed through the nose. In New York, for example, a pack of cigarettes is subjected to a tax of $2.75, which, depending on the brand and the place where they're bought, accounts for nearly half the price of the pack. Beer is taxed by the barrel at the federal level ($7 per barrel) and by the gallon at the state level ($0.11 per gallon). All told, those who indulge in nicotine and alcohol are paying at least a quarter of the price of their vices to so-called "sin taxes."
And yet, soda remains cheap. Currently, soda is subjected to the 8 percent sales tax and the $0.05 bottle deposit that's been around forever. Nearly everyone drinks soda, most of it sugared. This is significant because, for example, a 20-ounce Pepsi bottle (like the one that comes out of the machine when you swipe your ID card) contains 250 calories. A standard McDonald's cheeseburger, in all its artery-clogging goodness, comes in at 300 calories.
That's right. That bottle of soda you just downed because you were thirsty, tired, chasing cheap whisky or just plain bored contains nearly the energy equivalence of a burger. For more perspective, that bottle is more than 10 percent of the average daily caloric requirements for a moderately normal human being. Soft drinks in general equal about 7 percent of American caloric consumption.
On to more statistics: According to The New York Times, about two thirds of the population of the United States is overweight. Along with fatness - let's call it what it is - come a host of maladies, including but not limited to: diabetes, heart disease, heart attack and even infertility. Think about that. If you're too fat, you might not be able to perform your most basic evolutionary function.
So what does all of this scientific fear-mongering equal and what does it have to do with beer-swilling smokers? Simply put, there should be a tax on soda the same way there's a sin tax on other harmful products.
New York State has been toying with the idea of imposing a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sugared sodas as a means of bettering overall health and, let's not beat around the bush here, raise revenue for a seriously strapped budget that still hasn't been passed.
While this has come under fire from numerous sources, not least public complainants that see such a tax as "behavioral modification," it seems like a fine idea to me. In fact, some behavioral modification would be a good thing: America is the fattest country on Earth. While people are starving in Africa, we're busy finding new and innovative ways to combine fried chicken, cheese and bacon (it's called the Double Down, available at a KFC near you).
Not only might it not be ethical to be morbidly obese (or wicked fat, as I like to call it), but obesity, as noted above, contributes mightily to health care costs in America. Thanks to health care reform, we'll all be footing the bill pretty soon. And personally, I don't really want to pay for your fat, soda-guzzling kid. Selfish? Probably. Valid? Most definitely. Tax our soda, Mr. Governor.