New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to ban super-sized sugary sodas has resurrected the age-old debate over the role of the state in protecting the public health. In recent years, this debate involved bicycle helmets, car seat belts, tobacco, trans fats, saturated fats in meat and dairy products, and sugar (or more aptly, high-fructose corn syrup). Public subsidies for tobacco, meat and dairy, and corn production added fuel to the debate.
I would argue that society has a right to regulate activities that impose a heavy burden on the public treasury. National medical costs of dealing with our obesity epidemic, associated with consumption of meat, dairy and sugars, are estimated at $190 billion. Eliminating subsidies for these products, as well as judicious taxation to reduce their use and recoup public costs, should be supported by health advocates and fiscal conservatives alike.
Benjamin Franklin claimed that nothing is certain except death and taxes. Ironically, death can be deferred substantially by taxing products that make us sick.