Spice of life: Sinners must pay a tax for indulgence | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Spice of life: Sinners must pay a tax for indulgence

One morning my husband declared: “We’re all sinners”. “How’s that,” I asked? He was holding the morning newspapers.

chandigarh Updated: Aug 18, 2015 16:10 IST
Maniki Deep



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The adults who drink at parties and the teetotallers who keep to soft drinks are all sinners now. HT Photo

One morning my husband declared: “We’re all sinners”. “How’s that,” I asked? He was holding the morning newspapers. “Read this,” he said. The state government was discussing levying “sin tax” on people. It is a kind of sumptuary tax on socially proscribed goods such as alcohol, tobacco, candies, drugs, soft drinks, fast food, and coffee, and forbidden activities such as gambling.

Implemented even on extreme polluting vehicles, sumptuary or sin tax is also suggested to be imposed on sugar, rather any substance or activity considered sinful or harmful.

The objective is to change public behaviour and improve people’s health. When my son was small, we wanted to control some of his habits; so we told him: “One day sweet, the other day film.” He had a library of films and a jar full of sweets at home, and being a wonderful child, he agreed to do these in moderation. But what about the parties at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, sipping Coke and Pepsi — we didn’t stop that. Little did we know we were “sinning”.

Awareness and attitudes have changed since. The adults who drink at parties and the teetotallers who keep to soft drinks are all sinners now. I spoke to my friends. They had never heard of a sin tax. “Absurd, nonsense, this is coercion!” they said, “Alcohol acts as a social lubricant.” Even a friend in London had not heard of sin tax. Maybe they call it “luxury tax”. Next they’ll charge us for being happy.

Many countries have absurd tax laws. Denmark has a cow flatulence tax. Studies show that the methane released as the cow digests its greens accounts for up to 18% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. Each cow is, therefore, taxed. Smokers around the world pay a premium tax on cigarette. However, in 2009, the citizens of the central Chinese province of Hubei faced an opposite situation — smoke or pay a fine. China was in economic crisis and tobacco sales accounted for a large portion of tax revenue. However, now that China is doing better financially, it has made smoking in public illegal.

With the festival and marriage season not far, who could afford to miss sinning on sweetmeats and parties? The rich will carry on with their merry rounds but the sin tax will hit the poor the hardest. Most things that make us happy involve some degree of indulgence — whether it’s consumption, entertainment or sitting in company — the excess of anything is bad. Where does the state draw the line?

(The writer is a Manimajra-based freelance contributor)