If you've ever bought a pack of cigarettes, a six pack of beer or legally gambled, you likely paid a sin tax.
A sin tax is something we pay when the government is, paradoxically, trying to raise money off bad behavior. But a finance and marketing professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is worried some of these taxes can have unintended consequences.
"It's generally something that has a bad consequence for general public health or crime or something along that nature so the government tries to recoup revenue that provides some offset for those sin taxes," said professor Tom Shohfi.
Shohfi said these taxes can affect people who don't even engage in bad behavior. Cab drivers who smoke, for instance, have been found to fraudulently charge passengers extra when the tax on cigarettes goes up.
"What we find is that around this increase in excise tax at the federal level, these cab drivers start to cheat their customers more," he said. "So people who really have nothing to do with the sin tax, they don't smoke, but they have to pay more. There's a negative consequence."
And this could potentially be applied to other facets of the economy as well, as lawmakers in New York consider expanding legalized gambling, as well as set down regulations for the burgeoning cannabis market.
"If you move too far into the tax level, it might actually have a negative effect on those who are around those who prefer the black market as opposed to the regular market," he said.
Shohfi said policymakers need to take into consideration the effects sin taxes can have on society.
"Legislators should think about other consequences besides who's being taxes and the revenue generated," he said.