What is a Vice Tax?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Cigarette taxes are a classic example of vice taxes.
Cigarette taxes are a classic example of vice taxes.

A vice tax, also sometimes called a sin tax, is the colloquial name for the sumptuary tax, levied on items considered to be immoral luxuries. The purpose of the vice tax can be double fold; it is often used to fund a special project, and it discourages the consumption of the targeted "vice." Some common examples of vices that may be taxed are cigarettes, alcohol, and gambling.

A vice tax is sometimes levied on gambling.
A vice tax is sometimes levied on gambling.

In some cases, revenues collected from a vice tax are used to fund programs related to the taxed item or behavior. For example, a tax charged on tobacco may be used to fund anti-tobacco public education programs or to treat tobacco-related diseases. In this way, the vice tax serves to counteract some of the social ills resulting from the "vice."

Being somewhat socially unacceptable, cigarettes are easy for politicians to tax.
Being somewhat socially unacceptable, cigarettes are easy for politicians to tax.

In other cases, vice tax revenues are used to benefit the community in other ways, not necessarily related to the taxed item. A city may use the vice tax to fund the construction of a new school or stadium, for instance. Some argue that a city in which a large population indulge a particular vice, such as a college town where heavy drinking is rampant, can benefit from a vice tax because it requires increased city maintenance and law enforcement.

Alcoholic beverages are sometimes included in a vice tax.
Alcoholic beverages are sometimes included in a vice tax.

A relatively new idea for a vice tax, yet to be implemented, is the so-called "fat tax" on unhealthy snack food items. This hypothetical tax, endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), would be used to subsidize healthier foods, making them available to a wider range of people, as well as to educate the public about the importance of their food choices. This illustrates the main idea behind the vice tax: in a free society, people can choose to engage in legal activities that may negatively affect the larger community, but a sin tax ensures that society also benefits from their choices.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a SmartCapitalMind editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a SmartCapitalMind editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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    • Cigarette taxes are a classic example of vice taxes.
      By: Oleg Zinkovetsky
      Cigarette taxes are a classic example of vice taxes.
    • A vice tax is sometimes levied on gambling.
      By: Yuri Arcurs
      A vice tax is sometimes levied on gambling.
    • Being somewhat socially unacceptable, cigarettes are easy for politicians to tax.
      By: Wrangler
      Being somewhat socially unacceptable, cigarettes are easy for politicians to tax.
    • Alcoholic beverages are sometimes included in a vice tax.
      By: Andres Rodriguez
      Alcoholic beverages are sometimes included in a vice tax.