Naming a man who wants to levy sin taxes on soda pop to be the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) might not be the politically wisest thing for President Obama to do, especially on the heels of massive TEA Party protests. But then again, with media outlets like the Washington Post leaving that controversy unmentioned, perhaps the White House calculated correctly that the risk of staffing the federal government's public health branches with nanny state activists was minimal.
On May 15, President Obama announced in a press statement that New York City health commissioner Thomas Frieden will take the helm of the CDC in June. Reporting the story in the May 16 paper were Post staffers Debbi Wilgoren and Michael D. Shear (along with some help from staffer Ceci Connolly).
Wilgoren and Shear allowed "an industry-funded group" spokesman to slam Frieden as "barely recogniz[ing]" the line between "government's responsibility in regulating health and what is the individual's responsibility," yet they curiously omitted perhaps the clearest example of the same, Frieden's support of a penny-per-ounce soda tax. This even though the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the idea earlier in the week.
Slate's William Saletan noted Frieden's push for a penny-per-ounce soda tax in early April:
The food police are closing in on their next target: a soda tax.
New York City's health commissioner, Thomas Frieden, is leading the way. He's the guy who purged trans fats from the city's restaurants and made them post calorie counts for menu items. Lately he's been pressuring food companies to remove salt from their products.
Now he's going after soda. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Frieden and Kelly Brownell, the director of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, propose a penny-per-ounce excise tax on "sugared beverages." That's nearly $3 per case. Why so much? Because this tax, unlike the petty junk-food taxes of yesteryear, is designed to hurt. Its purpose is to discourage you from buying soda, on the grounds that soda, like smoking, is bad for you.
Persuading Americans to regulate soda the way we regulate cigarettes won't be easy. Isn't soda a kind of food? Isn't food a good thing? And isn't it a matter of personal choice? Doesn't taxation to control people's eating behavior cross a fundamental line of liberty?
Those are good questions and many Americans will no doubt be asking them as Frieden's food police activism becomes more widely reported and criticized.