Are You Prepared for Sin Taxes?
As a society, we’ve made some massive strides in public health in recent years. Smoking rates have declined sharply, teenagers are much less rowdy with lower rates of sex, drug use and drinking, bars and coffee shops are no longer filled with billowing clouds of smoke, and we’re even consuming less high fructose corn syrup than we were 20 years ago—progress! But the franchised restaurant world is still exposed to how unhealthy some of its offerings are, and sin taxes are something the industry needs to prepare for.
I still remember a vivid debate in my high school economics class, from a particularly controversial teacher who liked to stir the pot. Sure, he argued, we can mostly all agree about the logic of restricting cigarette use when the harmful results are so clear. But can’t we see the same, clear-as-day link between obesity rates and some of the insane menu items at restaurants?
According to a recent study published in Consumer Reports, 42 percent of Americans think the government should tax unhealthy behavior. In its report titled “Can’t ‘Sin Taxes’ Solve America’s Obesity Problem?” a majority of the 1,010 respondents approved of taxing sugar sweetened beverages. It also found that half of Americans wouldn’t cut back on unhealthy food even if it cost more, but 73 percent said they would eat more healthy food if it cost less.
Contrast those findings with the latest “2017 Xtreme Eating Awards” by the Center for Science in the Public Interest I saw floating around social media this week. In this report, the most unhealthy dishes at major chains are called out for culinary crimes against the collective waistline—and it isn’t pretty.
The Ultimate Smokehouse Combo at Chili’s rings up a cool 2,440 calories, with 41 grams of saturated fat and 7,610 mg of sodium. IHOP’s Cheeseburger Omelette (gross, IHOP) is a meal designed to stop you dead in your tracks, with nearly 2,000 calories, 45 grams of saturated fat and more than 1,000 mg oc cholesterol. I’m no dietitian, but I'm guessing that’s not the good cholesterol.
Of course, The Cheesecake Factory gets a seat at the trough with its Pasta Napoletana that combines Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs and bacon on pasta slathered with butter and cream. This one’s good for 2,310 calories, 79 grams of saturated fat and more than 4,300 mg of sodium.
As you’d imagine, the list goes on and on, covering everything from sinful desserts, ice cream shakes and insane burgers overflowing with unhealthy toppers. This is America, land of the free, but it seems foolish to assume society won’t eventually look to capture some money to help pay for the health problems such dishes can encourage.
The current administration isn’t likely to tackle this issue, but national administrations come and go. So far no legislation is on the table to regulate or tax unhealthy foods, but it’s the next logical step after requiring everyone to post nutritional information.
Perhaps the solution will be like CAFE in the automotive industry, where gas guzzlers are still permitted, but required to be offset by much more efficient cars to lower the “fleet average.” By this logic, Cheesecake Factory, Buffalo Wild Wings, IHOP and others will be slinging a LOT of salads, possibly with cash on the hood to move the metal.
However it works out, I hope chain restaurants cool it on their caloric race to the bottom. Give the customers what they want, sure, but let’s not goad them into near-competitive levels of indulgence.
In the words of Trent Reznor from back in my high school days, we’re all in this together.