Fortunes Up for Grabs

Is anyone worried about bankrupting the health care system, or shutting down the military because all the recruits are too heavy to qualify? Is anyone concerned about the environment replete with easily available comfort food, or the kids who give every appearance of being addicted to overeating in a way that devastates their lives? Dr. Pretlow says,

These kids are in real pain. They desperately need for the health profession, parents, schools, the food industry, and policy makers to do something about this deplorable problem. If one third of our kids were suffering from asthma due to air pollution, we’d take draconian measures. Why is childhood obesity different?

Sadly, what we are willing to do, and what works, are often two very different phenomena. Childhood Obesity News has been describing the reasons why various jurisdictions have either enacted, or discussed enacting, excise taxes on substances and practices that are, or are reputed to be, harmful to people.

Punitive taxation is credited with reducing the relative (but not the absolute) number of smokers in America. Nevertheless, it appears that in order to make a significant difference, the tax would need to be much higher. Many nicotine veterans and all “replacement smokers” have shown themselves willing to endure punitive taxation. Even an astronomical “sin tax,” experts say, would be unlikely to eliminate the behavior.

Also, the effort to reduce tobacco use has been so multifactorial that cause and effect cannot reliably be assigned. The proponents of each factor want to claim its supremacy as a deterrent. Who knows? Maybe, what really keeps at-risk kids away are the scary warnings on the packaging.

Business journalist Amelia Josephson writes,

Over 30 states impose some kind of special tax on sodas and other sugary drinks. So far, it’s been hard to see a relationship between these taxes and any substantial decrease in the consumption of the taxed beverages. In many cases, the amount by which a sin tax raises the price of an item is not enough to discourage consumption.

This type of excise tax gains acceptance by convincing people that the money will go to prevention of the sin, or healing of the people who have damaged themselves. Even if the revenues from tobacco sales were unerringly transferred to their intended destinations, presumably hospitals and research institutions, they would not completely pay for the societal costs of the addiction.

But, as we have seen, promises made during campaigns are seldom kept, and the states are far from diligent about using tax windfall money to discourage drinking or smoking. Before advocating any such legislation, history should be consulted, and ironclad guarantees put in place.

Of course, in the sugar-sweetened beverage business, there is plenty of room for jiggery-pokery — a fine old term that signifies underhandedness, dishonesty, manipulation, deceit, “creative accounting,” and a host of other commercial tricks. Manufacturers will obey the laws of corporate nature and find a way to extract even more profit from the commodity, like the Coca-Cola Company, that put on a show of cooperating with obesity prevention by selling soda in smaller containers.

Meanwhile, the markup on the contents of the smaller bottles is proportionately higher. Also, they depend on human nature, which dictates, “Hmmm, that little bottle does not look very thirst-quenching. Better go ahead and buy two, just in case.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What Is a Sin Tax?,”, 07/05/19
Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images on Visualhunt/No known copyright restrictions

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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