Mayo Clinic doctors are calling for new "sin taxes" on tobacco, alcohol, sugary drinks and fatty foods, which they say will lead people to cut back and improve public health.
Dr. Michael Joyner and Dr. David Warner believe much of our overall health depends on behavior and not necessarily our health care system. They say sin taxes attack risk factors for many diseases and conditions that are directly linked to smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet and inactivity.
"Sin taxes could address three of these four major behavioral determinants of overall health," said Dr. Joyner, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and physiologist. "Sin taxes have also been highly effective in improving public health in the past and in the current environment could be structured to raise substantial revenue and prevent both medical overuse and chronic diseases."
The doctors' opinion and argument for sin taxes appears in the June issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
5 ARGUMENTS FOR SIN TAXES
Nearly $80 billion could be generated over the next 10 years by increasing the tobacco tax by 50 cents per pack.
If the alcohol tax were increased to 30 percent, from 10 percent, federal revenues would increase by $25 billion per year ($250 billion over 10 years).
The effects of a one cent per ounce tax on sugary beverages would raise approximately $15 billion to $20 billion per year ($150 billion to $200 billion over 10 years).
PICKING UP THE SLACK
Sin tax revenue could be used to subsidize care for uninsured patients, alleviate some strain on Medicare and Medicaid and promote increased physical activity.
One major argument against sin taxes is they fall disproportionately on the poor, who typically engage in unhealthy behaviors at higher rates than other segments of the population. The doctors say the positive behavioral changes associated with these taxes would disproportionately benefit the poor in terms of both improved health over time and more money to spend on other things.
Sin taxes have bipartisan appeal.
"Although consideration of such policies would (and has) engendered vigorous debate, sin taxes have the potential to rapidly benefit the physical, social, and fiscal health of the nation and should be seriously considered by policymakers and our political leaders," Dr. Joyner says.