The Wages of Sin Taxes

In his study, The Wages of Sin Taxes, Chris Snowdon reveals that these taxes not only do little to limit the use of “bad” products, they do nothing to reduce societal costs. Most remarkably, Snowdon demonstrates that those shockingly large estimates of the costs that the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, sugar, and fat supposedly impose on society have little basis in reality. As Snowdon shows, the myth that “sinners”—those who drink, smoke, and eat unhealthful foods—cost more to society than everyone else has been perpetuated in large part because “government has no incentive to tell the public that these groups are being exploited and the affected industries dare not advertise the savings that come from lives being cut short by excessive use of their products.” We have been down this road before—first it was the campaign against alcohol, then onto tobacco and other products. As The Wages of Sin Taxes brilliantly demonstrates, sin taxes do not promote public safety and do nothing to reduce costs to society, and fleece taxpayers. Certainly, many sin tax proponents genuinely wish to improve the health of their fellow man and view these price increases as an unobtrusive way to achieve that goal. Yet, even when we set aside the argument about the morality of government interfering in individual choices, Snowdon demonstrates that these policies do not have the outcome they intend and in many cases cause greater harm to those they are meant to help.