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Why New York’s Governor Is on My Naughty List

December 15, 2008

New York Governor Paterson is planning to address a budget gap in part by leveling an “obesity tax” of 15% on non-diet sodas. The assumption here, I suppose, is that non-diet sodas are universally a bad choice, and those who make it deserve to pay extra taxes for the privilege of, I don’t know, actually consuming any calories.

I’ve written before about the unfortunate effects of my consuming the artificial sweeteners in soda. In fact, I described the reaction as causing “me to feel terrible for hours. We’re talking flushing, headache, severe intestinal cramps, a weird, dizzy, out of it feeling, the works.” I learned after experiencing this reaction a time or two that other women in my family have the same reaction.

For me, then, choosing a non-diet soda is not a matter of just not knowing that regular soda has calories or not caring enough about obesity (whatever that would mean). It’s a simple matter of, when I would like to choose a legal soda beverage, not being useless for hours and having serious intestinal issues. I don’t suppose anybody in the Governor’s office, seemingly sure of the health benefits of choosing diet soda, is worried about potential adverse health effects of that same product while they’re implicitly endorsing it.

Something about this just completely gives me the willies. Yes, I know, well if I were in New York, I could choose a beverage other than soda if the tax on non-diet soda is not acceptable to me. I just don’t really like the idea of punitive taxing for behavior control, especially when I perceive it as inconsistent and/or arbitrary. I can sort of understand it with something like cigarettes, where there is pretty strong evidence of inherent badness and there aren’t 800 other smokable tobacco products to choose from that are not being preferentially less taxed. However, will the Governor also be adding taxes to sweetened or just very naturally sweet fruit juices? Is there any evidence that the move would actually improve health, given the apparent endorsement of a particular choice?

[Hat tip to Sean Braisted over at Nashville for the 21st Century]

16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2008 10:21 am

    Yeah, and of course I’m biased by my own experiences, but dang, obesity is just not as simple as “Eat a lot; get fat. Get fat, be unhealthy.” And trying to force them to eat less is not going to make them unfat, and, if it did, would not make them healthier. So, basically, because folks are offended by how someone looks, they feel that gives them the right to force them to look different.


  2. December 15, 2008 10:23 am

    Exactly, B. There are so many things that strike me wrongly about this. Argh. Thanks for commenting.

  3. December 15, 2008 12:51 pm


    I’m not sure what to say about this. One piece of me says, “Who cares?” because I don’t live in NY, don’t drink regular soda (or any type, for that matter), so it won’t personally affect me.

    Another piece is like, “Where do we draw the line?” Everything that possibly could make someone fat be taxed? Who makes the decisions on what is taxable food or not taxable food? Simply taxing food products to make them less desirable to people so they can avoid getting fat is not going to solve the issue. The issue of obesity in our country is so multifactorial that taxing food is so laughable as an approach to me.

    As a fat person taking health measures to change my “problem”, I can tell you that taxing food is not going to turn away those who have food issues. At my worst, I would have paid $100 for a meal at my favorite fast food restaurant if I really wanted to eat it. Although not taken as a legitimate problem, food addiction is very real and is not going to go away- much like Prohibition didn’t cure alchoholism or related problems.

    So, I guess that is all. For now.

  4. December 15, 2008 2:18 pm

    Wha…? But, but, but, diet soda and Captain is just AWFUL!!! Not to mention the health risks associated with artificial sweeteners. Your problems are not uncommon. It gives me a dull, ringing headache that can trigger migraines. My ex-husband has to spend hours in the restroom after the tiniest bit of any kind of “fake” sugar, and my daughter reacts so violently, I’m afraid it could kill her! My mom had ringing in her ears for years. Never could get a diagnosis. She dropped the diet anything and *poof*! No more ringing.

    The whole concept is so ridiculous! What’s the next tax going to be? A “crossing the busy street” tax? How about taxing my husband for working at a convenience store? A tax on cops? There are many, many things more “dangerous” than sugar, and many things that could help the health situation for everyone that would be so much more worth the time and money to argue…

  5. December 15, 2008 2:21 pm

    I’m reminded of the recent study about statins and CRP. I kept hearing people facetiously suggest putting statins in municipal water supplies. You never know what people are going to have bad reactions to, so blanket health recommendations just don’t work. I am a Diet Cokehead myself, but I usually opt for non-diet stuff if I’m at a Pepsi kind of place and still want caffeine.

  6. December 15, 2008 2:45 pm

    Oh and don’t get me started on our screwed up attitudes towards fat people. I’m still annoyed that I’ve been fat my whole life and on and off all kinds of diets and told by every doctor until this year that I just wasn’t trying hard enough only to have my new gynecologist look at me, look at my symptoms, look at my weight, and say “We’ll do an ultrasound and run some blood-tests to be sure, but clearly you have PCOS.” My weight was not the cause of my health problems, as I had been lead to believe by every other health-care professional I ever did see, but a pretty big and telling symptom of a pretty major health problem.

    And I can’t help but wonder how many other people are out there being told that their weight is the cause of all their problems, when really, it’s a symptom instead. I imagine in 50 years we’re going to look back at this and think that we missed the point, big time.

  7. December 15, 2008 3:14 pm

    Aunt B, I totally agree with you that there are awful attitudes towards fat people. I had been thin up until I was about 25. Then I started packing on the pounds. I was also diagnosed with PCOS, was given metformin and told the “pounds would just melt off” with the med. I gain about 60 more pounds. With further weight gain, I ended up with high blood pressure. I could go on and on about these medical problems and why they occurred, but the bottom line is that it is not as easy as just pointing a finger at medical problems as the cause of being fat as it is to do the opposite.

    The PCOS played a role in my weight gain, but not entirely, and the hypertension was definitely brought on by being fat.

    Again, nothing is simple as A always causes B, etc, but being fat (regardless of the reasons) will almost always be a set up for problems at some point.

    Getting back to the post’s point, taxing sugared soda is not the answer.

  8. Susanna permalink
    December 15, 2008 3:57 pm

    We should be very careful before IMPOSING anything at all. What if it’s all wrong, and we have made things worse?

    For a long time, everybody was blaming people with ulcers for their condition, telling them they had a bad attitude. Guess what? It was a bacterium all along!

    OK, smoking is a pretty uncontested bad thing by now, but when it comes to nutrition, nobody knows anything for sure.

    Patterson just wanted to tax SOMETHING, but he is indeed sending a dangerous message.

  9. Tracy permalink
    December 15, 2008 4:46 pm

    So I suppose if I lived in NY again (like they don’t tax everything under the sun anyway, stupid place made me pay a premium to drive down the interstate instead of congested side roads through school zones) I would have to give up sodas entirely (probably should anyway) or risk getting a migraine because of artificial sweeteners. Bet Gov. Paterson’s “health advisers” would argue my migraines are not caused by aspartame, but by being overweight!

  10. December 15, 2008 6:53 pm

    Thank you all for your comments – very good thoughts by all.

  11. December 17, 2008 1:37 pm

    It won’t change a thing! People will still buy them if that is their preference.

  12. December 17, 2008 10:48 pm

    There’s a good documentary called “Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World” in which the filmmaker, a woman who suffers from MS, interviews a number of people who have suffered horrendous health effects from aspartame (aka the artificial sweetener found in most everything “diet”), and a number of doctors who have good and interesting information about how and why this artificial sweetener was pushed through FDA approval, and what’s wrong with it. Highly recommended; really scary. I looked into it because, like Rachel, I suffer terrible side effects from consuming aspartame (full body hives; flu-like symptoms).

  13. Susanna permalink
    December 18, 2008 1:43 am

    Some time ago, I stopped using any kind of sweetener. Well, I only need sugar for hot chocolate. Afterwards, I take Xylitol. Is not an artificial sweetener, is a tooth care product that is really great.

  14. Jen permalink
    December 29, 2008 2:11 pm

    I do live in NY and while I mostly drink diet except when I’m sick or queasy, I’d have preferred to see a tax on Doritos or junk food that clearly has no nutritional benefit than one on the soda.

    Personally, I’m way more worried about the huge library funding cut we’re going to get as a result of the deficit.


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