To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #KQEDDoNow

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

Do Now

Cigarettes, junk food and booze, oh my! Is it fair for the government to make you pay higher taxes for stuff that’s bad for you?


Booze, cigarettes, gambling … maybe even porn! Our society has decided they’re not bad enough to be illegal, but they are still considered somewhat “sinful” and for “adults” only. Some cities – like Richmond, CA and New York – have even considered increasing taxes on substances that are legal for all ages, like soda and junk food, to try to decrease consumption.

When the government taxes specific things considered unhealthy at a higher rate than other products, it’s called  a “sin tax.” These taxes are meant to serve two purposes: to get people to stop or cut down on bad habits (by raising prices), and to raise money. Because let’s face it, doing things that are bad for can be really tempting, and a lot of folks spend a lot of cash on them.

It brings up the question of whether the government has a right to decide what’s good or bad for us and if it’s okay to be financially penalized for doing things deemed unhealthy or “sinful.”  After responding to the Do Now, take KQED’s sin tax quiz.

In the June 5 primary this week, California voters narrowly rejected Proposition 29, which would have increased the tax on price of a pack of cigarettes in the state by a dollar (more than double the current rate of 87 cents). The measure would have raised an estimated $735 million a year in new tax revenue, which would have mostly gone towards cancer research. Just a month before election day, most California voters seemed to support Prop 29: over 60 percent of those polled said they’d vote for it. But in the last month, tobacco companies spent close to $50 million on a storm of ads opposing the measure. And it worked: by election day, voters defeated by just over 50 percent.


NBC Bay Area segment Following the Prop 29 Money Trail – June 1, 2012
Stephen Stock and the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found that some supposed independent groups opposing Proposition 29 actually have the backing of the tobacco industry.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #KQEDDoNow

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

More Resources

California Report segment Tobacco Proposition Would Up Taxes to $2 a Pack
California was once considered the most aggressive cigarette taxing state. But as other states have raised cigarette taxes in recent years, California has not. Voters have a chance to weigh in on the June 5 ballot with Proposition 29, which would hike the tax to nearly $2 a pack.

KQED The Lowdown’s interactive map that illustates U.S. smoking rates by state
Click on any state below to see the percentage of adult smokers (based on 2010 data) and the tobacco tax rate. The darker the shade of red, the higher the smoking rate.

Take the KQED Sin Tax quiz.

Do Now #35: Sin Taxes! 8 March,2017Matthew Green



Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor