Matthew Bisanz/Creative Commons
Under Washington state's candy tax set to go into effect June 1, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Pieces are taxable, but ReeseSticks are exempt because they include flour.
Under Washington state's candy tax set to go into effect June 1, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Pieces are taxable, but ReeseSticks are exempt because they include flour. Matthew Bisanz/Creative Commons
Candy is candy, right? Not if you're trying to tax it. That's when the definition gets a bit sticky. Suddenly a Snickers bar is candy but a Twix isn't.
This is an issue as states like Colorado and Washington move to tax sweets to help balance their budgets.
According to Washington state, which just approved a candy tax, candy is a preparation of sugar, honey or other natural or artificial sweeteners combined with chocolate, fruits, nuts or other ingredients or flavorings, and formed into bars, drops or pieces.
So put into practice, that means Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are taxable. Mike and Ike candies are taxable. Kit Kat is exempt.
That's because Kit Kats have flour in them, explains Patrick Gillespie of Washington state's Department of Revenue. And flour is the not-so-secret ingredient that determines whether something is candy or not — at least if you're the taxman. If it has flour, it's not candy.
A group of states working together to simplify and sync up their tax codes came up with the flour test. It took them two years. They insist that the flour lobby had no influence in the matter.
But the states' definition of candy leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Susan Smith of the National Confectioners Association, also known as Candy USA.
"We find that looking at flour as the definition of whether something is a food or not is really quite arbitrary," Smith says.
Does she have a better definition?
"Boy, that's a tough one. It might be the emotional definition that might determine what candy is rather than a specific ingredient or two," Smith says.
Smith says her industry would be happy to work with policymakers on this. But cash-strapped states aren't waiting. Last year, Illinois adopted the flour definition when it stopped giving a sales break to candy. This year Colorado and Washington state followed suit.
Gillespie is building a database of every candy sold in Washington and whether it's taxable. He's at more than 6,000 and counting. (That taxable status of more than 3,000 kinds of candy is available on the state's Department of Revenue website.)
You can just imagine what kids have to say about this.
In Washington state, lawmakers have gone home for the year, but most days you can find a school group touring the state Capitol. Jeremy Healey, who's visiting with other fifth-graders from Maple Lawn Elementary near Tacoma, Wash., sees the candy tax as a personal affront.
"I like candy, and if they tax it I can't have it as much at all," Healey says.
His favorite candy? Marshmallow Snickers.
"Those are good," Healey says.
For the record, Marshmallow Snickers are taxable.
But there's hope for Jeremy. An effort is under way to ask Washington voters to repeal the candy tax this November.