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Forget the sugar tax; Richmond needs a birth tax

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POSTED May 16, 2012 11:21 p.m.

Let those who are without sin impose sin taxes.

Voters in Richmond might want to keep that in mind this November.

The City Council of the blue collar and economically distressed East Bay community Tuesday voted 5-2 to put a proposal on the upcoming ballot that levies a penny per ounce sales tax on soda and other sugary beverages. Richmond is the first city in the nation to pursue such a tax.

A typical can of soda would be slapped with a 12 cent tax. A 7-Eleven Double Big Gulp would have a 64 cent sugar tax added in addition to the sales tax.

The rationale for the tax: Supporters cite studies that show 50 percent of Richmond’s school children are obese, 67 percent of the city’s students between the ages of 12 and 18 in a survey said they had one or two sodas a day, and 74 percent of the city’s population lives within a quarter of a mile of a soda vendor.

The tax would generate upwards of $8 million a year to fund school sports programs, underwrite health care for diabetic children, and help fund healthier school meals. Supporters believe it will reduce type 2 diabetes, dental disease, heart attacks, and obesity that can trigger a lot of other ills.

I’m certainly not going to argue that a lot of sugar isn’t good for you.

There was a time I virtually main lined the stuff growing up. I’d eat two or three tablespoons straight from the sugar bowl on Saturday mornings after consuming two good-sized bowls of Frosted Flakes with several heaping tablespoons of sugar on top. My soda habit at one time was the equivalent of five 16-ounce bottles a day.

And, yes, I weighed 320 pounds at one point. As far as health complications from sugar, I’ve had two cavities in my life. That’s it.

There is much more destructive involved with the sugar tax besides just health issues.

Social engineering by the direct act of taxation - no matter how noble the cause - is dangerous. You have the majority basically deciding which sin is bad enough to have a consumption tax slapped on it. Arguing that consumption of a specific product can lead to unhealthy consequences is a dangerous justification.

There is a lot of heavy calorie laden food out there. Why not slap a fat tax on Dairy Queen Blizzards and similar concoctions? The large version has almost 1,000 calories. What about a pollution tax on those who eat dairy products? Cows release methane gas which has been identified as a major source of foul air by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Taxing milk a cent an ounce might cut down on the consumption and therefore reduce methane gas. Maybe impose a secondary tax penalty on whole milk or butterfat milk since they are not just the product of methane producing cow but also have a lot of calories.

And what about studies that show video games lead to more inactive youth which in turn increases the obesity rate? Shouldn’t we slap a fat tax on video games when they are sold or rented?

But wait, not all video game players turn into slugs. Such a tax would penalize those who play video games in moderation just like a sugar tax would penalize those who consume sodas in moderation.

If taxing soda will make Richmond school kids less obese then why not tax those that don’t walk to school?

Exercise is just as important as good nutrition in fighting childhood obesity. Walking to and from school is good exercise.

Parents might argue it is dangerous to walk to school. No worries. Richmond could always impose a criminal tax on all bullets sold in Richmond to discourage gang members with guns from purchasing bullets.

And since gang members have to be born, why not a delivery tax on anybody giving birth to kids to fund anti-gang programs?

There is no end to the sin tax possibilities.

That’s why even if you agree sugary drinks are a health hazard, you need to reject that as justification for a sin tax in a bid to reduce consumption and in turn- supposedly - encourage healthier lifestyles.

If you don’t step up and defend those targeted with sin taxes by the self-righteous majority, they could come after your “sin” next.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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