Lots of interesting feedback on my post on sugar regulation. Some of you have accused me of making straw man arguments; others have used straw man arguments to question my post. So let me take a few minutes to be clear about what I was saying. The article I referenced specifically questioned whether sugar should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco.
We regulate alcohol by making it illegal to use it before the age of 21. Period. We regulate alcohol by making businesses get a specific, and often hard-to-get, license to sell it. Where I live, it’s illegal to sell it on Sunday. We don’t regulate alcohol by limiting the amount you can put in a drink. Any bar can make any drink they like, with as much or as little alcohol as they want.
We regulate tobacco by making it illegal to use it before the age of 18. Period. We regulate it by making businesses sell it in specific areas, often hard-to-get at. It’s illegal to put it in vending machines. But we don’t regulate tobacco by limiting the amount you can put in a cigar. Any cigar maker can put as much or as little tobacco in as they want.
So when someone says that they want to regulate sugar like alcohol or tobacco, that’s what I think of. And it was what they meant, according to reports:
Sugar is so toxic it should be controlled like alcohol, according to new report that goes so far as to suggest setting an age limit of 17 years to buy soda pop.
So I find it so odd that so many of you are coming back at me and saying that you think I’m wrong to disapprove of taxing excessive sugar use. That’s not what I said. I am more than willing to consider studies that examine the effects of such a proposal. In fact, I’ve often thought that we should subsidize things we want to encourage in society and tax things we don’t, so I’m not sure why we’re so fixated on subsidizing sugar and so loathe to tax it. But prove it to me. Show me how the tax will function. Make a case based on evidence.
What I’m not convinced of at all, though, is that we should ban sugar outright for children, make it illegal for me to get it on Sunday, and set up businesses solely for its sale and consumption. And that’s what it means to control sugar like alcohol or tobacco.
Aaron E. Carroll, MD, MS is an associate professor of Pediatrics and the associate director of Children’s Health Services Research at Indiana University School of Medicine, as well as the director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research. Carroll’s work has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, and many other national publications. He blogs at The Incidental Economist, where this post was originally published.