Instigator / Con

Sin Tax/Junk Food Tax Group Debate


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Two weeks
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3 person team not including captain. 1st round for listing of teammates only. Create argument via PM and forum.
Definition of Junk Food:
Anything with high calories, and little nutritional value.
In other words
-Sugary Beverages
Fast food will not be included in this debate.

Round 1
Virtuoso, bedrocks, Ramshutu, and me as captain.
Round 2
Thanks to Alec and his team for accepting this debate

RESOLVED  “The United States Federal Government should implement a National Junk Food Tax.”


Burdens: For the purposes of this debate, we share equal burdens of proof.  

Interpreting the Resolution PRO must demonstrate that a National Junk Food Tax offers a practical means for improving American diets while offsetting the economic costs of obesity.
If CON can demonstrate the impracticability  of PRO’s plan and/or offer superior alternatives, then CON wins.

A National Junk Food Tax is impractical for a number of reasons:

  1. There is no Federal Food Tax at present.  Presently in the US, any sales tax on food is applied at the state and local levels of government.  A new, overarching Federal tax would infringe on traditional Federal jurisdictions and represent a kind of double or even triple jeopardy for food manufacturers and food consumers.
  2. The true economic costs of obesity are impossible to calculate. - hThe private marginal costs of obesity not quantifiable.
      1. “Little evidence exists as to whether obese individuals impose an externality on the non-obese through private health insurance…
      2. “Few studies have estimated the marginal impact of an increase in BMI or body weight on medical care costs.””
  3. It doesn’t work
"The bottom line is that the tax isn't going to make anybody healthier, it's not going to make a dent in a problem as complex and serious as obesity, and we're certainly not going to solve the complexities of the health -care system with a tax on soda pop." Kevin W. Keane a worker at the American Beverage Association says
A study from Cornell university, found that in Berkeley the cities obesity rates didn’t lower as much as people thought. So if you are thinking about a massive curb in obesity, it won’t happen. It’s bad for economy too. The potato chip industry is worth 26 billion dollars and the candy industry is worth 79 billion dollars, so how much do you think the junk food industry is worth? You are putting a industry worth billions at risk just for a tax that won’t work and people hate. A junk food tax in Hungary was released in 2011, it only lowered the consuming of junk food products by 3.4%, and the raised the consuming of healthy products by 1.1% also thus proving that it won’t curb obesity that much.

  1. Unfair implementation
    1. Junk Food is not the only cause for obesity.
      1. Therefore a tax on junk food manufacturers and/or consumers either has no hope of covering the external costs of obesity, 

      1. Junk food manufacturers and/or consumers are unfairly burdened with taxes to cover costs over which their activity has no influence.
        1. For example, cheese is just as high in calories and just as devoid of nutrition as potato chips but Frito-Lay and potato chip eaters would be asked to bear the obesity costs of cheese eaters or else the tax would fail to cover the external costs of cheese-caused obesity.
        2. For another example,the physical inactivity associated with  television viewing and computer game playing have been shown to contribute to obesity to a very important degree, but television and video game manufacturers/consumers are not being asked to share in the public costs of obesity.

      1. Since not all obesity contributors are distributably  taxed, any reductions in obesity (and therefore increases in longevity) brought about by a junk food tax increase the social costs not compensated for.
        1. For example, Frito-Lay’s tax burden is increased because less obese people live a little longer and so buy more potato chips but longer lived people are also watching more television without a compensatory tax.  Meanwhile, the public savings in terms of pensions and healthcare by shorter-lived obese persons are seldom calculated.
      2. Untaxed factors contributing to obesity include (but are not limited to):
  1. Overeating. 
          1. One could overeat very healthy foods and still be obese
        1. Medications
          1. Steroids, birth control pills, and antidepressants lead to obesity.
        1. Medical Conditions
          1. There are many medical conditions which lead to obesity including
  • PCOS
  • Prader Willi-Syndrome
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cushing Syndrome
“People and families may make decisions based on their environment or community. For example, a person may choose not to walk or bike to the store or to work because of a lack of sidewalks or safe bike trails. Community, home, child care, school, health care, and workplace settings can all influence people’s daily behaviors.” says the CDC or the Center of Disease Control and Prevention
    1. Since lower income consumers of junk food would end up paying the same tax rate as higher income consumers, poorer junk food consumers would suffer a greater negative impact than richer junk food consumers.The tax is regressive since consumers on lower incomes will be more negatively impacted by higher prices than consumers on higher incomes. This will result in many negative consequences, not just because of unfair taxing, but because of what the tax does to affect. Starvation, poverty, and other illnesses, that we don’t need.

    1. Because of the oversized political influence of lobbyists in Washington, DC, corrupt imbalances in the implementation of taxation is highly likely.  
      1. For example, Cook County’s abortive effort to add a 1 cent per fl. Oz tax in 2017 did tax non-fattening zero calorie sodas but failed to tax (due to successful lobbying efforts) sugary fruit drinks, arguably the most fattening of all drink options.
  1. Besides, the US Federal Government is presently subsidizing many of the most important ingredients found in junk food
“From 1995 to 2010, the  government spent $170 billion in agricultural subsidies to produce ingredients that make junk food cheap and plentiful. These crops and farm foods— corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, milk and meat— aren’t inherently unhealthy, but many are turned into inexpensive additives like corn sweeteners, industrial oils, processed meats and refined carbohydrates.”
While a penny per ounce junk food tax (including soda tax) is predicted to generate $118 billion over a period of five years.

C1: For us to see a substantial decrease in obesity, the tax would need to be onerous

Sin taxes are a difficult-to-implement policy primarily due to the risk of setting the tax too high or too low. For fat taxes, there would be no option besides setting the tax egregiously high. Simply put, in the fast-food addicted culture of the US, any increase in price would have to be visible to consumers for a change in behavior to result. Consumers will fail to observe a miniscule increase in price by a matter of cents. Oliver Mytton of the British Heart Foundation’s Health Promotion Research Group concluded that fat taxes need to be set at 20% to see substantial decreases in obesity (1). 

As one could imagine, the most integral part of the Pro plan needs to be the actual percentage at which unhealthy consumer products are taxed. By ignoring this detail, we repeat past mistakes made by other countries. Denmark learned this when it attempted to implement a fat tax in October 2011, only for it the be revoked a year later after the goal of decrease saturated fats was not met (2). In addition, the Danish tax manifested a litany of economic maladies for the country. While there was a slight change in behavior associated with the tax, (likely due to its publicity alerting consumers to the increased prices,) it was undermined by Danes buying food from bordering nations or just buying cheaper junk food. An estimated 80% of Danish consumers did not change their purchasing habits on account of the tax. So, with consumers buying their food elsewhere or for cheaper and starving, (pardon the pun) the Danish companies of profit, jobs fell in droves. The Institute of Economic Affairs noted that the fat tax led to over 1,000 job losses and a .8% reduction in real wages on account of less consumer spending necessitating layoffs in industries relying on unhealthy, cheap food. These industries in the US are a source of livelihood for the destitute.


Most western countries, and the US in particular is facing a health crisis related to the obesity of its citizens.

The economic impact of obesity is almost unfathomable. (List all big numbers impacts, etc)

This is not even starting talk of the indirect costs of missed work days and poor productivity due to ill health. (List all economic issues)

Even the overall average life expectancy is falling for the first time (since when?)

This presents a pressing health crisis that is negatively impacting the quality of life and well being of America as a whole, and presents a major social crisis.

If an economic crisis was brought about by terrorism, or this scale of loss of life was visited on the US by a nation state, the government would be compelled to act to protect the well being of its citizens.

This case is no exception: the severity of the crisis, and the potential long term impact to the US compels the government to action in order to reduce obesity and obesity related illnesses.

The US is still also a liberal Democracy, placing importance on principles of personal choice and freedom, which limits the overall methods by which the US government should be able to intervene. Ideally, the market should be able to solve the problems

A key barrier to this, is that the cost of unhealthy food and drink, and the impact they have on society is not reflected in the cost of the food and drink in question. This means the fast food industry can market and sell their product at an artificially low cost, in a way that shifts the economic burden and impacts of the food and drink to others.

For a free market solution based on food and drink, the true cost of the product must be included in the actual cost; and this requires a sin tax.

With this sin tax, unhealthy fast food options will be taxed at a high rate to reduce consumption, and to encourage market behaviours that are conducive to a healthier society and work force.

The intent is not solely to reduce consumption of unhealthy food and drink; but drive market forces that help push healthier alternatives.

For this policy, the junk food tax, will be combined with removal of junk food advertising, promotion and subsidization of healthier food and drink, such as fresh fruit, and subsidization of programs that help to encourage healthy eating, food security, and exercise.

 These issues have been faced before: ciggarettes are highly taxed, and this tax (combined with advertising bans) have contributed substantially to the reduction of individuals smoking, and thus improved the health of the workforce.

In other countries, a junk food tax has been imposed and has successfully reduced levels of obesity - especially in poorer segments of the economy.

While it is not the sole solution to the obesity problem - it is a simply and effective solution that allows for market forces to help improve the health of society with little real impact to the freedom of individuals.


1: It reduces the income tax by providing an alternative source of revenue.
Annual soft drink sales $245,436,000,000[a][b][c]

2: It punishes people for doing something that they often shouldn’t be doing.[d][e]

3. It reduces the price of Medicare and Medicaid. It reduces consumption of unhealthy foods. Eating unhealthy leads to obesity and diabetes, which cause heart disease. This is America’s leading cause of death.
        Sugary beverages and potato chips have long-term effects on weight gain
        Sugary beverages linked to diabetes        
Total Cost of heart disease $200 billion. Diabetes, poor diet, and obesity put people at a higher risk for heart disease.

4.In fact, it does work. Soda sales fell 38% after the tax was implemented in Philadelphia, even when accounting for increases in sales in neighboring areas. So, since this is a nation-wide tax, what are the chances they would go across the border if they are hesitant to go to neighboring cities? To defeat his points about how they went across the border from Sweden, we can also implement fat tariffs[f][g]. That is allowed.

Also this:

5. People are addicted to junk food. We are dealing with a malicious industry that ceaselessly markets to people despite the horrendous effects of their products on our health.(Moral argument. Bash them for taking advantage of our addictions)[h][i][j]

6.) Similar taxes on tobaco have been effective in reducing consumption of cigarettes:
Ugh, I’m on mobile so can’t minimize that!

This also shows that junk food tax - which also include a subsidy on healthy foods, do have an impact on changing behaviour and weight.

7.)  Balance individual freedom and personal liberty with the need to maintain a healthy population.

Junk food taxation and sin taxes encourage behaviour change without directly impeding on personal freedom through banning or mandates.

You may still eat a cheeseburger if you wish, but it’s easier for people to chose to go for something else, if the price is more prohibitive. The personal choice to eat unhealthily or not is still down to the individual in question.

8.) Junk food has an inherent cost to society based upon the increased burden on the healthcare industry and employers; sick days, illness, reduce live spans have a meaningful economic impact in the country, however these costs are not currently incorporated into the price of food, with a junk food tax, the price of junk food would be better reflective of the cost of junk food.

This would allow a better level of inherent competition within junk food retailers; healthier food could be marketed as cheaper as well as healthier; would helps to inject market forces to solving key health problems.

9.) overall justification.

We have to lay down a framework, what are we trying to maximize, what are our values?

A.) obesity is economically detrimental to society through illness, impact to employers, etc (we need to quantify this) - obesity is a major issue

B) When faced with a major economic impact caused by obesity and junk food, the government has a duty to act in a way that protects the society, whilst protecting individual freedom to act and chose - even when that action is against their self interest.

C.) given the economic impact, a junk food ban would mitigate that impact, whilst upholding personal freedom.

If we do that, we can not only compare impacts and say “well, yes, some people will spend more; but it reduces diabetes which is better for the economy, and for all individuals”[k][l][m]

8.) “Harmful to the poor”

This is likely to be a big plank of their side: this is actually fairly easily rebutted.

The poor will only be harmed if they keep eating junk food at the higher cost, rather than limit their consumption; or switching to healthier alternatives - which is the intent and outcome of the policy.



Round 3
“1: It reduces the income tax by providing an alternative source of revenue”
Providing another revenue source has not been proven to lower income tax, and even if it did, that would not make this source better than any other, or even better than income tax itself.

Directly continued under the Counterplan heading below.

“2: It punishes people for doing something that they often shouldn’t be doing”
Aside from it having not been proven to be immoral by any standard, if it needed to be punished it would make more sense to criminalize it. Besides, it already punishes the participants who overindulge, so why apply double jeopardy? 

“3. It reduces the price of Medicare and Medicaid...”
Prove it. As noted inside the other team’s source, “Junk food taxes alone won’t solve obesity” [1]. As for potato chips and weight gain, the other team’s New England Journal of Medicine source reveals that the worst food for weight gain is potato chips, to which four years of over consumption only results in a gain of only “1.69 lbs” [2], which even over a forty year period would not be the difference between a healthy weight and obesity (16.9 lbs).

“4.In fact, it does work. Soda sales fell 38% after the tax was implemented in Philadelphia… we can also implement fat tariffs”
So it hurts American businesses operating in the free market; this is clearly a bad thing.
As for the newly proposed fat tariffs, this sounds suspiciously like human rights violations. Please clarify.

  1. They never specify the tax rate that needs to be imposed to see the desired reductions in soda consumption.
  2. Local companies within Philadelphia suffered. Pepsico was forced to stop selling their 12-pack and 2-liter products in Philadelphia in favor of cheaper locations outside of the city, while laying off 80-100 workers [3]. In fact, the USA Today article cited by Con states that “...sales inside the city of Philadelphia fell 51%. Sales in nearby areas increased 43%.” If this tax was implemented federally, there would be no possible way to inoculate businesses from falling sales, making the job loss far worse. They couldn’t find cheaper localities to sell their sodas because every locality would have to comply with the federal tax.
  3. A junk food tax in Hungary was released in 2011, it only lowered the consumption of junk food products by 3.4%, and raised the consumption of healthy products by 1.1% also  proving that it won’t solve obesity [4].

“5. People are addicted to junk food… malicious industry… Bash them for taking advantage of our addictions”
If people are so addicted, exploiting their illness with a harmful to the poor regressive tax seems too, malicious. This would literally be the government “taking advantage of our addictions.”Also, think about the people working in the industry. Hundreds of people losing their jobs because of loss of money, who has moral problems now?

“6.) Similar taxes on tobaco have been effective in reducing consumption of cigarettes:”
Junk food and cigarettes are non-analogous. Cigarettes harm via second-hand-smoke, but there is no absence of consent similarity with any junk food. Plus tobacco consumption has not been solved.

“7.)  Balance individual freedom and personal liberty with the need to maintain a healthy population.”
In their 2018 report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that nearly 3 out of 4 minimum-wage workers are employed in food-service and hospitality [5]. As mentioned before, there are no ways that a company could prevent less earnings form soda sales from affecting them. They couldn’t move locations to dodge the tax in the Pro world because the entire nation is subject to the fat tax. In other words, unemployment will spike considerably. Unemployment poses health threats that rival obesity. The European Society of Cardiology in 2017 found that unemployment was associated with a 50% increase in death in patients that experienced heart failure [6]. In addition, the unemployed are more likely to suffer from psychological disorders that impede their happiness and ability to find another job. The CDC, using data from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, found that unemployed younger adults were 3-times as likely to suffer from depression when compared to their employed counterparts [7]. 

“8.) Junk food has an inherent cost to society based upon the increased burden on the healthcare industry and employers”
Following your metaphor of a cost. A cost comes with benefits such as, many jobs, pleasurable food and not starving homeless people!

9.) overall justification”
This seemed to be a piece of team notes to themselves, which was only included by accident; thus without need for refutation. 

10)” The poor will only be harmed if they keep eating junk food at the higher cost, rather than limit their consumption; or switching to healthier alternatives - which is the intent and outcome of the policy.”
Healthy foods are already expensive, so instead of one expensive choice, there’s two. As explained by economists Shughart and Thomas, “it turns out that consumers’ buying habits do not change markedly in response to the higher prices, and that the burden of those taxes falls most heavily on the low-income, who allocate larger shares of their budgets to food than wealthier people do” [4].

Continued from rebuttal 1.

Given that (taken from the other side’s own source) “the USDA doesn’t subsidize leafy vegetable crops in the same way it supports crops like wheat, soy, and corn — two crops that make up a lot of the junk food” [1] the simple act of ceasing the subsidies would lower the budget of the USDA (potentially lowering income tax), and increase the price of junk food without involving taxes.

This shows that junk foods are indeed sold below their natural price, in a way counter to the free market; yet adding taxes to them while continuing these subsidies would be senseless. To initiate both measures at once would risk destroying companies and related jobs, plus would be unlikely to pass legal challenges from their lawyers. After price normalization following the subsidy removal (at least a year for price analysis [9], plus four for weight change analysis in response to the price changes [2]), the idea of a sin tax could be revisited if the problems have not begun to correct.



Round waived.  Sorry about my parents.
Round 4
Our team waives to give Alec more time, and I grant him permission to find new teammates.
Sorry but lost track of time.
Round 5
The opposing team has waived half the debate rounds, which alone would be grounds to vote against them.

Without anything to respond to, all we can do is reiterate that their case was thoroughly disproven (both by us, and by their own evidence), while ours was unchallenged.

To summarize this debate with a quote from respected economists:
“Diet is only one component of a healthy lifestyle. The other components, such as regular exercise and adequate sleep, are not directly related to tax policy.”

Thanks for the group debate!

Sorry I don´t have the energy to continue.  I would say you deserve the win.