Navajo nation to get first junk food tax in U.S.
How should governments govern sales of soda? Should they ban the large sugary drinks? Should they make them more expensive?
Or should they just leave soda alone? And let consumers decide. We can either buy them or not.
This has become a debate. That's a discussion about competing viewpoints. Already, it has been playing out in New York City and Berkeley, California. And places in between.
In Smithsonian.com, Marissa Fessenden reports on one community's interest in this issue. A big decision was made. The community will target eating habits.
The move was made by the Navajo National Council. Navajos are Native Americans. The council approved a 2-percent increase in sales tax. It is only on some foods. Those foods include pastries, fried foods, desserts, chips and sodas. Those details came from Leilani Clark for Mother Jones magazine. She writes:
Authored by the Din Community Advocacy Alliance (DCAA). a grassroots organization of community volunteers, the legislation was modeled on existing taxes on tobacco and alcohol. And on other fat and sugar tax initiatives outside the United States. The act follows on the heels of a spring 2014 amendment that removed a 5 percent tribal sales tax on fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Navajo law is called the Healthy Din Nation Act, Fessenden reports. The law hasn't attracted a lot of attention. But in New York, for instance, sales of large sodas were banned. That got a lot of response from around the country.
The Navajo law will bring the total tax on low-nutrition foods to 7 percent. The increase in revenue will go towards a fund. The money will be used to build activity areas. Those include "wellness centers, parks, basketball courts, trails, swimming pools, picnic grounds and health education classes." That comes from a report by Alysa Landry for Indian Country. She adds:
An estimated 10 percent of the Navajo population has diabetes, said David Foley. He is an epidemiologist for the Navajo Nation Division of Health. In numbers, thats about 24,600 people. Another 75,000 people are pre-diabetic.
The junk food tax is unprecedented. Thats not just in Indian Country but in the nation as a whole, said Crystal Echo Hawk. She was the executive director of the Notah Begay III Foundation. It is a non-profit organization that combats obesity and diabetes among Natives.
This is the only one in the country, so the national significance of this cannot be underplayed, she said. Bigger cities have been trying to get something like this passed for years. The Navajo Nation is the first to get it done.
Will the tax help improve health for the Navajo population? It will take time to know. Landry points out that the border towns around the reservation still will sell junk food. There, the cost will not include the extra tax. Buyers might go elsewhere to get their drinks.
There have been previous soda taxes. One is in Mexico. It began at the start of 2014. So far, it does seem to show some effect on soda sales. To what extent is debated. That is according to a report by Tamar Haspel for the Washington Post. It is a newspaper.
Haspel suggests another approach. Taxing added sugar in the supply chain. It might be more effective. She writes:
If we tax sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate and other added sugars at the point where theyre manufactured or imported we essentially tax everything with added sugar. That is proportionate with its sugar content (with the exception of foods already manufactured before we import them). An input tax, its called.
The Navajo tax hike will expire at the end of 2018. The Council could vote to extend it. Or it could just go away.
For now, the Navajo Nation's tax raises many questions. For instance, will less soda be sold? And, will the fund to create active spaces for the tribe be successful?
It will take several years to find out.
Critical thinking challenge: Why was the tax removed from fresh fruit and vegetables?