Taxing the Air We Breathe

· Financial


One morning, as I was thinking about the ravages of inflation, by word association, I started thinking about taxation.  This led me to remember something written in a chemistry textbook, most probably facetiously, that air is one of the few items not yet taxed.  In turn, I remembered a story read not too much earlier on the Internet, about a Canadian company selling canned air to China. We can be sure that the Canadian company, and its shipper, had to pay several types of taxes, and surprisingly, even a Communist nation such as China has them.  We may thus say, at least some people in Peking pay for the air that they breathe.  I then started thinking, are we really exempt from paying for our air?  We are not, and this is what we will show here.

The Chinese Case

We do not want to take the credit for what others have written, but will point out the fact that the evidence exists, that someone in Canada determined that there was a market in China for fresh mountain air from the Canadian Rockies. It was therefore canned, and sent to, for example, a Chinese restaurant in the city once named Peiping, where the pollution is now so bad, if we are to exaggerate, that peeping becomes virtually impossible.  So, anyone going out on a dinner date to that restaurant pays, at least for the Canadian part of the cost, a tax in proportion to every breath taken.  (This will be gone into more detail further below, for those who are interested.)

But not Just in China!

That might seem to be an exceptional situation, but those of us who are comfortable often miss the uncomfortable truths.  The following may be untrue, but it was printed in the early 70s in the McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) weekly, The Silhouette.  It was claimed, by some environmentalist, that a big corporation (which we dare not name here), after making its employees sick through its industrial processes, made them pay for their own cure, in that the oxygen which they needed to breathe in hospital was furnished by the same manufacturer who had made them ill in the first place.

The above scenario should be considered spin-doctored, because the U.S. hospital system has had, at least until the time of President Obama, a bad reputation with those who felt that health core ought to be more like that in Britain or Canada.  It should go without saying, that if the oxygen was supplied to the hospital by the same company which had made the worker sick, it was mere coincidence – not a devious plan.  If the hospital bills were very high, they would have been so, even if the air had not been required.  What we can say, is this: While the Chinese client more or less voluntarily accepts to dine in a place with imported air, U.S. patients in hospitals who required breathing apparatus, paid, through their hospital bills, a part to their government.  I do not know if there would have been any tax relief at that time for Americans, as there was for hospital bills for their Canadian counterparts.

On a more purely commercial level, a review of articles which we might have seen previously shows that the Chinese purchase from Canada was not the first time that fresh air, as opposed to some hospital or industrial type, was bought willingly.

In 2004, bottled air was sold in Britain from the region of Cumbria, sold for 60 pounds.  “Manchester Smog” was also available for purchase. Two years earlier, someone opened an oxygen bar in Bristol, where a 2-minute injection of the gas into a drink would cost 3 pounds.

Meanwhile, before the Chinese got the bottled air, one restaurant was charging an extra “air cleaning fee”, without prior warning.

Neither Sick nor Chinese?

So, you think that because you neither require to be indirectly connected to an oxygen tank in hospital, or that you are in a relatively breathable environment, that you are not paying for the air that your breathe?  It’s like this, just by reading this, if there was a cost involved, you are paying a part in taxation on air.  Let’s take a look at how many ways you pay for your nose, if not through the nose.

This is my preliminary line-up: if you, or your employer, use any of the following, or required any of the same in the manufacture of an item in your home or place of work, then, a part goes to the air that you breathe:

Has the air been circulated by fan, heated or cooled, air-conditioned, humidified or dehumidified, filtered, pressurized or depressurized, scented, ionized, purified, sterilized, re-mixed, contaminated by necessary combustion, modified through the photosynthesis of plants of agro-industry or the escape of fluorocarbons, just to mention what we can think of off-hand?  Most of these will apply to anyone using a computer.

It is not just in our 21st Century that this payment is made.  Even back before then, there were car air fresheners.  Of course, they were cheap, and we can conclude that for their cost, paying a dollar a year for the taxes on the air freshener might have been the end of it.  Few houses had air-conditioning in 1950.  Few had refrigerators 20 years earlier, and both of the preceding are, or have been blamed for global warming, through the leakage of their compressed refrigerants.

And the people in smog-filled countries, who wear surgical-type masks, don’t get them tax-free either.  Therefore, the air they breathe has become more expensive.

We will omit a lot of intermediate stages, and come to the present, with its plethora of devices with microchips.  This modern technology requires an absolutely dust-free environment. It is for this reason that we have said, if you use a computer, you paid for the air – necessary for the manufacture of one or several components.  Computers must also be used within certain temperature ranges, so, if the user lives in a semi-tropical or freezing environment, an air-conditioner or heating system, if not a heat-pump in more modern environments is probably used. This requires the direct consumption of fuel, and indirect input in the case of electricity [that from dams being excepted], and these are taxed.

Double Meaning of Taxing!

While our primary concern is the payment of tribute, we may be sure, unless we are most lucky, that the air is taxed in other ways.  When we speak of a taxing problem, we mean a difficult one.  Taxing can mean burdensome.  Our air is taxed with contaminants.  With this, we can say that our argument about taxing air is true, one way or another.

List of indirect Payments for Tax on Air

This section is for those who do not need to worry about filling out tax declarations.

Let us imagine the purchase of an air-conditioner, humidifier, dehumidifier, pressurizer, air freshener, etc.

The company that made them paid property, income, payroll, social security, municipal and state or provincial taxes, and perhaps customs and excise taxes, by which we do not mean to say that the list is complete.  The same goes for the home user.

In some places, to reduce air pollution, factories use what are called as scrubbers.  Supposedly, there was a certain reluctance to their use, because of their high cost. Supposing they were used, we may add a proportion of this cost to the final product sold by the company.

Additionally, fuel and lighting imply that the suppliers paid all or some of the above, which are passed on to the next stage.

The purchaser then forks out sales tax or a somewhat similar equivalent, value-added tax, known as GST or Goods and Services Tax in Canada.


Benjamin Franklin once claimed something like, “Everything’s sure but death and taxes”, to which we can add, in the present environment – in which some, ever more often, and rather deliriously, speak of living “forever” – the only certainty is the burden we live with.   To this we add a final warning for those who are unaware of the fact: we can’t live without oxygen, but in excess, it speeds up ageing. Another taxing problem!

But who knows?  Maybe, someday, someone will find a way to tax our breaths, aspirations, and inspirations more efficiently.

© 2016. Paul Karl Moeller.  21-June-2016. Reviewed with minor wording changes, June 2, 2019.

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