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6 “Weird” Tax Laws From Around the World

Dive into 6 bizarre tax laws worldwide! From bagel taxes to beard levies, discover the unexpected. Ready for a tax journey? Join us on our blog!

Filing your returns may not be amusing, but tax laws? Boy, have they had their moments. Throughout history, the pendulum on tax laws has swung between moments of strategic finesse and moments of sheer absurdity.

So, if you thought taxes are always strictly Serious Business™, with stern-faced accountants and stern-lettered forms, here are six tax laws that might change your mind about that and, hopefully, elicit a chuckle or two.

#1. New York’s Bagel Tax

“A sandwich can be as simple as a buttered bagel or roll, or as elaborate as a six-foot, toasted submarine sandwich.”

Where do you think this line is from?

If you thought that this line was out of a cookbook or a food dictionary, think again. This is from the New York Department of Taxation and Finance’s website, where there is a dedicated bulletin on sandwiches and their taxability_._

Also, this bulletin is detailed. It clearly states that sandwiches are, in general, subject to taxation. It also has a long list of taxable sandwiches, and that’s where the beloved bagel becomes (poetry lovers can applaud the alliteration) relevant.

So, for the purpose of taxation, sandwiches include, but aren’t limited to, bagel sandwiches (served buttered or with spreads, or otherwise as a sandwich), burritos, cheese-steak sandwiches, croissant sandwiches, fish fry sandwiches, etc. They also include cold and hot sandwiches of every kind that are prepared and ready to be eaten, whether made on bread, on bagels, on rolls, in pitas, in wraps, or otherwise, and regardless of the filling or number of layers.

What makes this tax kind of…taxing is the fact that any ready-made sandwich is subject to taxation. What does this mean for your fave New York bagel? Once a bagel is sliced open - even if just to toast it - you will have to pay the standard New York sales tax of 8.875%. And who doesn’t like their bagel with some cream cheese (at least!).

But let’s look at why this is the case.

States distinguish between “prepared food” and “food for home consumption.” When it comes to the tax treatment of food for home consumption, states take varying approaches. Some states do not charge taxes on food for home consumption, where some others may charge tax but at a lower rate. Some tax it at the rate that is standardly applicable to tangible personal property. But prepared food is subject to tax in all the states that charge a general sales tax.

Now, there are some ways to sidestep this tax. Say you decide to buy an entire bagel and a container of cream cheese separately. By doing this, you wouldn’t be slicing the bagel (which is what would make it a sandwich) and subjecting it to tax.

In fact, this isn’t the only way to sidestep this tax. In an ingenious move, the company H&H Bagels devised a new way to give you that cream cheese in your bagel without making it taxable. How, you ask? They inject their bagels with cream cheese as opposed to slicing them open! So, technically, the cream-cheese-stuffed bagel isn’t a sandwich.

Let’s move on to another…food-related tax.

#2. Denmark’s “Fat” Tax

Well, this tax was as controversial as it sounds. Denmark’s “fat tax”, which was officially called the “saturated fat tax” was a short-lived policy enacted to address public health concerns related to obesity and unhealthy eating habits. Like many other countries, Denmark’s citizens also experienced health issues related to unhealthy diets such as obesity and associated comorbidities. It was against this backdrop that this law, which Denmark was the first to implement, was enacted in October 2011.

It was meant to target foods high in saturated fats. More specifically, the tax applied to foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat, and it covered a range of products, including butter, oils, processed foods, and certain dairy products.

Now the idea behind the tax was to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices by making high-fat products more expensive. In fact, the stated purpose of such taxation (i.e., the taxation of what is considered “unhealthy food”) is to increase the consumer price of an “unhealthy” product based on the assumption that consumers will factor these costs into their decision-making and buy less of such products. Also, ultimately, the revenue generated from this tax could be used for financing public expenditures or reducing other taxes.

But the result turned out to be something else altogether.

This tax faced criticism and challenges almost immediately after its implementation. Critics of the tax asserted that the tax disproportionately disadvantaged people from lower-income brackets, as they spent a higher percentage of their income on food. There were also concerns about the administrative complexity of determining the saturated fat content of various food products. Also, some surveys purportedly found that 80% of Danes had not changed their shopping habits at all in response to this tax.

One of the notable consequences of the fat tax was what became known as the “cross-border shopping effect.” Danish consumers, particularly those living near the border, started crossing into neighboring countries to purchase high-fat products at lower prices, thus avoiding the Danish tax. Also, the fat tax was said to be one of the factors that led inflation to rise to 4.7 per cent in a year when real wages fell by 0.8 per cent.

Eventually, the Danish government decided to abandon the fat tax and repeal it just over a year after it was implemented (before its impact could be studied, and likely for political reasons). In November 2012, the tax was officially scrapped, and Denmark became an example of the challenges and unintended consequences that can arise from attempts to regulate food consumption through taxation.

#3. Rome’s Urine Tax

(Yup. We’re getting right into it.)

So, here’s the backstory. In ancient Rome, urine played a pretty significant role; it served not only as a critical commodity but also as an indicator of one’s wealth and social standing. Why, you ask? Well, the ammonia in urine allowed it to be used in various industries - from textile and leather to toothpaste.

Now, the urine tax, also known as the “urine wheel” or “urine tax wheel,” was an unusual tax imposed in Ancient Rome during the reigns of emperors Nero and Vespasian (69-79 AD). Nero supposedly introduced it, and Vespasian gave new life to it during his reign.

As far as the story concerns Vespasian (who is more famously associated with the urine tax), it goes that he introduced it as a means of generating revenue for the treasury owing to how important a commodity urine was at the time, given its use in multiple and essential industries. Basically, he imposed a tax - vectigal urinae - on the collection and distribution of urine. Public urinals were set up across the city. The urine collected from these facilities was then sold to wealthy buyers, who would then pay tax on it.

As mentioned earlier, urine had many uses. One of the primary uses of urine in ancient industries was in the process of fulling, which involved cleaning, scouring, and thickening raw wool. It was also used in the tanning industry because the ammonia content in urine was effective in these processes. The tax on urine trade essentially created a state monopoly on urine collection and distribution.

Pecunia non olet!

When Vespasian’s son Titus complained to him about the morality of collecting revenue through such means, it is said that Vespasian held up a gold coin to his nose and said “Non olet!”, which translates to, “It doesn’t smell!”. This was the origin of the phrase “Pecunia non olet” or “Money does not smell!”, which is used to mean that money retains its intrinsic value irrespective of its source, whether obtained through illegitimate means, associated with repulsive practices, or earned from other suspicious origins.

Today, Vespasian’s legacy endures in the association of his name with public urinals found in France (vespasiennes), Italy (vespasiani), and Romania (vespasienne).

It’s worth noting that while the story of the urine tax is widely recounted, historical records from the time are limited, and some aspects of the tale may be embellished or symbolic rather than entirely factual. Nonetheless, the concept of a tax on a bodily fluid for industrial purposes remains a curious and memorable episode in the history of taxation.

#4. Maryland’s “Flush” Tax

Well, that previous tax law flows right into this one, huh? (Get it?)

Okay, so Maryland’s flush tax has a little more to it than meets the eye, so to speak.

To give you some background, the Chesapeake Bay had seen a decline in the quality of water, which was because of a build-up of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen in the water. The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund was established in 2004 to address this problem. The aim was to create a fund that was financed by wastewater treatment plant users with the eventual goal of upgrading Maryland’s wastewater treatment plants with enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) technology. It was/is also intended to implement agricultural best management practices and support other initiatives aimed at reducing nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay

Now, the flush tax is applied to properties served by a wastewater treatment plant. Initially, the fee was primarily associated with residential properties, but it has expanded to include some commercial and industrial properties as well. The tax itself is levied on users of wastewater facilities, onsite sewage disposal systems and holding tanks that are located in Maryland or qualify by serving Maryland users.

Basically, toilet flushing in excess of a certain limit is taxed at $5 per month. The tax, which used to be a $30 annual fee, is now $60 per year.

Certain exemptions and credits may be available, such as for properties using septic systems instead of being connected to a public wastewater treatment plant. Specific criteria apply, and property owners may need to meet certain conditions to qualify.

Strange as the title of this tax sounds, this tax did purportedly yield some results. As reported in 2017, the funds generated by levying the tax were used to upgrade a treatment plant (one of 66 the state had planned on upgrading). This upgrade of the Cox Creek facility helped reduce nitrogen and solid waste significantly!

#5. New Zealand’s “Fart” Tax

Can cow burps and farts be taxed?

That is the central question surrounding this tax - but, like with all taxes, there’s (moo)re to it. The concept of a “cow flatulence tax” is deeply linked to the issue of climate change. Why? Livestock release methane as part of their “digestive processes”, and methane is a potent greenhouse gas - accelerating climate change. In fact, methane has a much higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide over a shorter time frame.

Therefore, this flatulence tax on livestock is directly associated with efforts to address methane emissions from livestock. While there isn’t a widely implemented tax specifically targeting cow flatulence, the idea has been discussed in the context of environmental policies.

Now, let’s talk about New Zealand.

New Zealand, known for its significant agricultural sector, including a substantial number of cows, has been at the forefront of discussions about agricultural emissions. The agricultural industry in New Zealand, including dairy farming, is a major part of the country’s economy (New Zealand isn’t called Saudi Arabia for milk for no reason). However, it also contributes significantly to methane emissions - half of the country’s emissions is mainly through the digestive process of ruminant animals like cows.

Now, the idea of a cow flatulence tax has generated a lot of attention and discussion. It is intended to reduce New Zealand’s livestock emissions by about 47% by 2050, which is relevant especially considering New Zealand’s pledge to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. But this tax hasn’t been implemented yet.

This is because there are several challenges and complexities associated with this tax. First, the levy itself would be dependent on several aspects: the number of animals, the farm’s size, the types of fertilizer used, steps taken by farmers to reduce emissions, etc. Also, this would require farmers to reduce the size of their livestock. For several reasons, including the lack of farmer buy-in, the law has not been enacted yet.

Instead of a specific tax on cow flatulence, governments and researchers around the world have focused on broader strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This includes exploring more sustainable farming practices, improving feed efficiency, and investing in technologies to capture or mitigate methane emissions.

The concept of a cow flatulence tax remains an interesting and somewhat funny example of how environmental concerns can intersect with economic and agricultural policy discussions.

#6. Russia’s Beard Tax

The Russian beard tax is a historical levy that dates back to the reign of Tsar Peter the Great in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, who ruled from 1682 to 1725.

In 1697 and 1698, Peter traveled around Europe (to learn from/about their colonizing “successes”, among other things). During this time, he learned about Europe first hand, blending in under an alias - Sergeant Pyotr Mikhaylov - and studying shipbuilding, etc.

When he returned to Russia, he implemented a series of sweeping reforms to modernize Russia and bring it in line with Western European practices and so it could compete with the superpowers in Europe. As part of these reforms, Peter aimed to Westernize the appearance of Russian men.

One of these modernizing measures was ditching the beard, in an attempt to be beardless like the Europeans that Peter had encountered. The introduction of this measure was quite dramatic, to say the least. A little while after his return from Europe, Peter was honored with a reception, with the commander of the army, his second-in-command Fyodor Romodanovsy, and other diplomats in attendance. All of a sudden, Peter took a barber’s razor out, and to the absolute horror of his guests, started shaving off their beards.

He announced that the men in Russia could no longer roam around with beards (a rather controversial rule considering that the Russian Orthodox Church considered beardlessness blasphemous). But his hardline stance softened, and he also saw an opportunity for money-making there. Therefore, he imposed a tax on beards, levying it from those who wished to keep their beards. The tax rates varied depending on the social status of the individual, with higher rates for the wealthy and lower rates for the common folk. Rich folks were charged up to 100 rubles annually. However, for commoners, the rate was significantly lower, as low as 1 kopek.

Those who paid the beard tax were issued a special token or medallion as proof of payment - silver for noblemen and copper for commoners. Failure to pay the tax resulted in humiliating and often public beard-shaving by officers known as “barbers” employed by the state. The severity of the tax and its enforcement reflected Peter the Great’s determination to modernize Russia and align it with the cultural norms of Western Europe.

While the beard tax was not a long-lasting policy, as it was eventually repealed in 1772 during the reign of Empress Catherine the Great, it remains a notable and curious episode in Russian history. The beard tax serves as a symbol of Peter the Great’s ambitious efforts to transform Russia into a more Europeanized and modern state.


Truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to taxes. What can we say, the peculiar often coexists with the practical. The next time you’re caught up in the tax-filing tizzy, we hope the thought of some of these weird laws provides brief respite.

But better still, you don’t have to go it alone; Fincent’s here to walk with you on your tax journey (funny is not all we have). So, whether you find yourself scratching your head at an unusual deduction or grappling with a peculiar tax provision, know that a reliable companion is just a step away!

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