Bioethics Blogs

Putting the Sin in Sin Tax

Sin Tax1With Thanksgiving behind us, many Americans will not assemble together for a home-cooked meal again for a while.

By some estimates, people living in large cities consume the majority of their meals outside the home — at restaurants, coffee shops, bars and food trucks. No surprise, then, that anti-obesity policies are increasingly focused on helping Americans make healthier choices when eating in these establishments. Such policies range from gentle informational campaigns (such as the FDA’s calorie count mandate) to heavier-handed policies (such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s attempt to ban the sale of large sodas).

But with evidence suggesting that calorie information requirements are too hands-off to impact behavior, and with courts concluding that soda bans are too hands-on to be legal, anti-obesity experts are pushing for a more moderate policy intervention. That is why fat and sugar taxes may soon be coming to your local restaurant.

The thinking behind such sin taxes is straightforward: If you make unhealthy food more expensive, people will be less likely to buy it. The problem with this simple way of putting it is it doesn’t capture the complex way people respond to economic signals when dining out. (Please click here to read the rest of the article and leave comments.)

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.