Sin Taxes and SNAP Benefits

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about so-called sin taxes (the additional taxes added to products the government deems unhealthy). My recent reconsideration of sin taxes was spurred by a discussion I had on social media about the idea of restricting SNAP, food stamp, money from being spent on soft drinks.

For years, I have supported sin taxes on alcohol, tobacco, , and marijuana, but I haven’t supported the idea of taxing soda purchases. When the issue of restricting the ability of SNAP recipients from using our benefit to purchase soda was brought to my attention, my initial reaction was to oppose the idea. My logic was that consumption of soda, unlike the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, has no direct affect on anyone but the consumer. I stated that if the government wants to limit the health affects of soda consumption, it should outlaw soda. Knowing soda would never be outlawed, I suggested banning soda advertisements, just as we have done with tobacco. While we were at it, we could ban the advertising of alcohol too.

Being me, my mind kept returning to the idea of restricting the ability of SNAP recipients to purchase soda with our benefit. I had to find out if there was information comparing the shopping habits of SNAP recipients with shoppers not using SNAP. The United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP, released such a study in November of 2016. The report used data collected from a large grocery retailer during 2011.

The study found that five percent of Snap dollars are spent on soda. Four percent of dollars spent by those not using SNAP were spent on soda.

Since people with SNAP benefits aren’t buying soda far more frequently than people not using SNAP, I think many are having the wrong discussion. Clearly, everyone, whether they use SNAP or not, is consuming too much soda. Given this reality, we should stop wasting time further stigmatizing the poor and punishing them for the bad choices almost everyone is making.

In It’s Personal, I mentioned that I’m currently receiving SNAP benefits. Yes, I have used SNAP dollars to purchase soda; however, soda has been a very small percentage of the purchases I’ve made with SNAP dollars. If all goes well, this will be my third and final month collecting SNAP benefits. I’ll keep you updated.

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