With the most recent Canadian budget we’ve seen yet another increase in sales tax on cigarettes and alcohol, deemed the “Sin Tax”. The rationale being that these substances are detrimental to our health, thus increasing the workload of our healthcare system and demanding more money is spent to keep us alive and well. Alright, that I can make sense of. What I can’t seem to make sense of is why it’s limited to those two substances.
If the goal of our government is to force us to be healthier via taxation, why are we not taxing other products which are detrimental to our health? Refined sugars and deep fried fast foods may not harm us to the same extent, but are still not considered healthy options. In moderation, fast food provides a convenient and tasty option. When consumed daily or even multiple times per day, health and quality of life is noticeably declined. I speak from personal experience as well as through observation, having been obese just four years ago because of my terrible diet and habits.
As I’ve lost over 60 lbs I’ve witnessed a sharp increase in cognitive ability, self-confidence, and both physical and mental health. The correlation is that I’ve cut drinking pop daily; I’ve cut eating fast food, chips, and candy multiple times a week. But I’ve continued to consume the odd adult beverage and the odd cigarette. It’s almost as if moderation is the key! Well, that’s exactly it.
I’m not arguing for or against a “sin tax”, simply pointing out the hypocrisy in its rationale. If the government wants to change human behaviour through taxation, it should do so pragmatically by looking at all sides of the case. The stigma attached with smoking was and is perpetuated through government campaigns and blatant branding of the risks associated with it. Why is there no stigma for fast food potentially creating obese, physically dormant citizens? Instead we preach acceptance of body shapes of all types. It seems to be a blatant contradiction in my mind. Alcohol carries less of a stigma, and yet it’s actually the most harmful to our bodies, causing permanent damage every damn time we consume.
Which raises the question, at what point is the government crossing the line in imposing their ideals upon us? In a “free” country, people are stigmatized and forced to pay more for something that’s perfectly legal. Paternalism is defined as “the policy or practice on the part of people in positions of authority of restricting the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to them in the subordinates' supposed best interest.” Our government is not banning anything, only restricting access to them.
As a young adult, this is the third increase in taxation on these substances I’ve witnessed in my adult life (six years), both at the provincial and federal level. The government is clearly demonstrating that it won’t go as far as to ban the substances completely, just make these substances out of reach from the general public. For instance, Alberta has banned all flavoured and menthol tobacco, yet cigarettes are still sold at every corner store.
In just six years I went from buying a 6-pack of beer for ~$10.00 to ~$15.00. Bars and pubs have a minimum amount they can sell booze for, so farewell to the coveted days of dollar drafts and highballs. Doesn’t seem like much, but it’s been a substantial increase.
This is getting a bit ridiculous! They cater to the audience who may all agree “yes, these are bad for people so it’s okay to tax them. Why should my tax dollars go to keeping smokers and drinkers alive?” They’re aware there will be minimal pushback, because we can’t argue that these substances won’t be detrimental to our health. They’re taking the easy approach to increasing taxation knowing this route will not cause a substantial outcry from the population. I ask again, why is it not a pragmatic approach? Why are we paying for individuals who have terrible diets and self-inflict disease and illness through their diets?
Tax all sins, or don’t do it at all, end of story (not really, I have more to say). Brothels and “massage parlours” openly operate; fast food chains fill their meat products with soy and filler products and toss them into the deep fryer. It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost assumed that fast food products and processed foods are garbage, they even have to advertise they use “real” products. It’s comical.
If they want to protect people from harming themselves, let’s address the entire issue, or live and let live.
By Kayle Sieben