Embracing the recent blog post of “More - and less - Matters,” I turn attention today to the idea of a tax on soda. If we are to eat more water-rich fruits and vegetables, why can’t we implement policies that cut the empty calories of soda? While I like a $1 bottomless large soft drink at McDonald’s assuredly more than the next guy, there is also something to be said for the contention that enough is enough.
After all, studies say sweetened beverages are the single-largest source of calories in the American diet. The average American derives 7% of his or her calories from sweetened beverages, and that percentage is higher for lower income consumers.
If there was a “sin tax” (perhaps that’s a little harsh for modern day sensibilities - how about “guilty pleasure tax”) on soda, the money could be used to help educate consumers about healthy foods, notably fruits and vegetables.
A news release from the Center for Science in the Public Interest had this quote from Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.,
“When a two-liter cola is 99 cents and blueberries are over three dollars, something has gone very wrong,” said DeLauro, Ranking Member on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
That’s a great quote. We just have to figure what exactly has gone “very wrong.” Is the price of blueberries too high, or the cost of soda too cheap?
The CSPI release said that DeLauro told the second National Soda Summit that national legislation to levy an excise tax on sugar drinks is just weeks away from introduction.
From the CSPI release:
DeLauro’s remarks headlined the second day of the summit, which brought leading researchers and scientists, public health officials, foundation executives, and community activists together to discuss the most effective strategies to reduce soda-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. An official from New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene described that city’s appeal of a lower court’s injunction against the city’s proposed cap on soda serving sizes as critical for future efforts by the department to take action. Health activists from California discussed promising efforts in that state to levy local taxes on soda, as well as legislation that recently passed in the state senate that would require warning notices on containers of soda and other sugary drinks. Representatives from Mexican consumer group El Poder del Consumidor discussed their successful campaign to enact a one-peso-per-liter tax on soda and other junk foods there, which reduced sales by about seven percent.
“All around the country, public health officials are recognizing soda’s contribution to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and are working on policies aimed at reducing consumption of sugar drinks,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest executive director Michael F. Jacobson.
“We are winning,” said Jim Krieger, director of chronic disease and injury prevention at Seattle and King County’s public health department. “Consumption of soda is decreasing. Why? Through effective public awareness campaigns and the growing movement to remove soda from schools, childcare sites, government property, hospitals and work places. We need to build on this momentum and ultimately we must tax sugary drinks to discourage consumption—identifying them as an unhealthy product and using the revenues to promote health.”
TK: Is this the type of issue that United Fresh and Produce Marketing Association should embrace? Industry associations aren’t typically wired that way, to oppose another food sector, even if that sector doesn’t merit their regard. So let’s call the federal soda tax idea what it is - an extreme longshot.
Still, here are questions that should be answered with clarity before a soda tax makes sense for the country, and for the industry:
1. Would a restriction on soda sales to food stamp recipients work better?
2. What level of tax is necessary to reduce current and future obesity?
3. How will tax revenue be used to improve fruit and vegetable consumption?