Mark Bittman bites the bullet and advocates taxing unhealthy food like soda, French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks, and subsidizing fruits and vegetables.
He suggests that sweetened drinks could be taxed at 2 cents per ounce, so a six-pack of Pepsi would cost $1.44 more than it does now. An equivalent tax on fries might be 50 cents per serving; a quarter extra for a doughnut. He argues that "taxes would reduce consumption of unhealthful foods and generate billions of dollars annually. That money could be used to subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit."
Such taxes are justifiable despite arguments that it will unfairly target poor people who pay a higher percentage of their income for food. Such critics overlook the long-term health effects of these foods and the much higher medical and other costs imposed on low-income people. Such criticism can be mitigated by subsidies on high-quality, fresh and healthy foods.
Though no American city today has taxes that are explicitly aimed at reducing consumption, many have proposals to tax soda or all sugar-sweetened beverages. Research by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale have found that such soda taxes become significant at the equivalent of about a penny an ounce. Further, it is also suggested that these taxes should be in the form of excise taxes on inputs, so that the taxes will be incorporated into the shelf price of the drink, thereby nudging consumers on their purchasing decisions.
There is also an excellent graphic that points to how economic incentives, signalled through prices of cigarettes, have contributed to a dramatic drop in smoking among Americans since the eighties.
Remarkably, more than half of all Americans who once smoked have quit and smoking rates are about half of what they were in the 1960s.