In June 2016, Philadelphia became the largest city in the United States to pass a soda tax, which went into effect on January 1, 2017. Soda taxes, an umbrella term for taxes that are assessed on sugar-sweetened beverages, represent the latest incarnation in a recent wave of non-traditional “sin taxes.” Sin taxes target behaviors that the government considers to be socially undesirable, and traditionally have been levied to curb consumption of alcohol and tobacco products. As state and local governments continue to face burgeoning budget deficits, legislators have increased the amount of existing sin taxes and expanded the sin tax base by taxing everything from sugar-sweetened beverages and junk food to disposable plastic bags. This Note argues that, notwithstanding the significant allure sin taxes possess as revenue generating tools, legislators must carefully evaluate each new potential “sin” independently on its own merits, and understand the inherent limitations of sin taxes, their regressive nature, and the attenuated public health justifications that accompany many non-traditional sin taxes. This Note argues that legislators should thus be wary of an unbridled expansion of sin taxes into non-traditional areas, and consider alternative methods of curbing unhealthy private behaviors, such as requiring manufacturers of sinful goods and services to affix warning labels on their offerings and improving consumer access to healthier substitutes.
Franklin Liu, Sin Taxes: Have Governments Gone Too Far in Their Efforts to Monetize Morality?, 59 B.C.L. Rev. 763 (2018), https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol59/iss2/7