TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, April 7, 2017

Mann Presents Using Tax Law To Control Obesity Today At Lewis & Clark

Lewis & ClarkRoberta Mann (Oregon) presents Controlling the Environmental Costs of Obesity today at the symposium on 21st Century Food Law: What's On Our Plates? at Lewis & Clark:

Obesity is increasingly viewed as a major health problem across the world. Obesity presents both external and internal costs. Obesity alone may be responsible for some $2 trillion in medical costs and lost productivity, representing significant external costs. Internal costs occur because people make eating and drinking choices without being aware of the eventual damage to their health. Obesity also carries environmental costs. Consumption of certain energy dense foods made from corn and soy (including meat) increases soil erosion and water pollution from fertilizer use. Governmental policy encourages the production of such crops. Being overweight decreases physical activity and personal mobility, leading to increased use of motor vehicles. Environmental factors such as sprawl and transportation policy affect obesity rates. When people cannot walk or take public transportation to work, they spend more time in their cars. They have less time to exercise and prepare healthy meals. Hence, both obesity’s effect on the environment and the environment’s effect on obesity lead to increased carbon emissions and exacerbate climate change. Taxes can potentially control both the external and internal costs of obesity.

By increasing the cost of certain foods, taxes can discourage their consumption. A number of national and subnational jurisdictions have enacted such taxes, including Denmark, Finland, France, Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and the city of Berkeley, California in the United States. This article will examine a variety of economic instruments for controlling obesity, including regulation, taxes, and nudges. The relative success of governmental measures to reduce tobacco use are also examined to see what lessons might be learned. Finally, the article will explore existing U.S. tax provisions to consider how modification of such provisions might help with the problem of obesity.

Conferences, Scholarship, Tax | Permalink


God forbid we ever expect anyone to just control themselves and their eating and exercise habits.

Posted by: L&C Law Alum | Apr 7, 2017 6:03:42 AM

I am sure that those supplying Philadelphia can speak as to the economic impact and the "black market" that surrounds punitive taxation. One may argue that the tobacco tax has lead to criminality. I think that if one wanted to alter the trajectory, certain products should not be subject to purchase with WIC.

Posted by: Tom N | Apr 7, 2017 6:07:55 AM

Hiking and mountain climbing lead to increased use of cars and planes as those participants are notorious for burning fossil fuels on long trips to get to their destinations of choice. This place is about to go up like Krypton and no one is listening!

Posted by: Skipp | Apr 7, 2017 8:49:54 AM

To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained, is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition; and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable. Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price; and to those who do, it is a penalty laid on them for gratifying a particular taste. Their choice of pleasures, and their mode of expending their income, after satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their own concern, and must rest with their own judgment.
-On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, chapter V

Posted by: World Without Class Warfare | Apr 7, 2017 10:17:47 AM

Smuggled cigarettes made up 58% of the total cigarette market in the Empire State in 2013, an increase from the previous year's data.

Interestingly, New York also happens to have the highest state cigarette tax at $4.35 per pack. (Excluding the additional $1.50 tax per pack in New York City.)

Posted by: Babbitt | Apr 7, 2017 10:51:15 AM

The bottom line is that there is no ethical reason to have excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco products. All costs associated with these products are individual, not social costs. There are no externalities to internalize. It is not a legitimate function of government to punish people for engaging in activities that are none of the government's business, like smoking and drinking. The only legitimate functions of government are to protect the lives and property of the people who pay taxes. It is never a legitimate function of government to protect people from themselves.

The Political Economy of Excise Taxation by Robert W. McGee

Posted by: Babbitt | Apr 7, 2017 10:57:38 AM

Tom, sugary beverages, candy and snack foods are not available under the WIC program. The list of WIC-eligible foods is small as only those foods that meet specific nutritional criteria are allowed. The WIC recipient, expecting women or those with young children, are instructed on the food choices available. Having worked with retailers, compliance generates difficulty as the list of WIC-eligible foods is often brand, size and attribute specific. For example, WIC can specify that a given brand of whole wheat bread at a given size is allow. Fresh and frozen vegetables may be eligible but not canned. WIC is a state-run benefit and the list of eligible foods vary by state.

Contrast WIC to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); formerly known as “Food Stamps.” To ease the administrative burden on retailers, SNAP places few restrictions on the eligibly of food. Basically, all food is SNAP eligible; even those with little nutritional value. It’s up to the recipient to determine the best use of this benefit.

Posted by: Eddy from Accounting | Apr 7, 2017 12:52:40 PM