From Denmark to California, Diet Engineering by Sin Tax Fails

Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor site

It’s been a rough week for activists and government officials who support tax increases as a way to engineer “better” dietary choices. First, two California towns rejected increases in soda taxes by wide margins on Election Day. And then on November 10, the government of Denmark announced that it was repealing its sin tax on saturated fat and dropping plans for a tax on sugar. The Danish tax had been widely touted as a model for other nations.

The Danish government should be applauded for listening to its consumers and businesses, and for accepting economic realities. The tax on such dietary staples as butter, cream, oil, and cheese not only forced many Danes to purchase lower quality goods from neighboring nations, it also created an administrative nightmare for businesses, reportedly leading to 1,300 lost jobs. The Danish tax ministry conceded that the taxes had not altered citizens’ eating habits and “may be counterproductive at worst.”

We’re not seeing such refreshing candor and acceptance from government officials and their nanny state activists allies in the wake of the votes in California, however. Rather than finding more productive, less intrusive ways to battle obesity, sin tax proponents are busy whining about being outspent in the Richmond and El Monte tax campaigns and plotting ways to introduce soda tax initiatives in more localities and forcing simultaneous votes.

Developments such as those in Denmark, and respected studies showing that sin taxes must be imposed at level of at least 20% to impact obesity, won’t dissuade truly committed food nannies. Activists like The New York TimesMark Bittman will continue to believe: “I can’t think of a better way of reducing sugar consumption than a tax.”

We, on the other hand, can’t think of a better way to turn economically struggling Americans against their self-appointed consumer advocates than an increase in prices of the foods we choose and enjoy by 20% or more.

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