Sin Tax on Sugary Sodas?

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

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Photo: Amy Allcock / flickr

In my blog about Kelly Brownell’s Seattle Summit presentation I mentioned his suggestion of a tax on sugary sodas, the resulting revenues being used to combat the conditions that promote obesity. Today I read in the Wall Street Journal that the Center for Science in the Public Interest is proposing such a tax, its proceeds to help fund the overhaul of our health care system.

A bit of backstory here: 25, maybe 30 years have passed since I gave up on CSPI when it announced there was no scientific evidence that refined (white/table) sugar was harmful. At the time the American Diabetic and American Dietetic associations were saying the same thing. I couldn’t do anything about them, but I could drop my membership in CSPI, and, when time came to renew, I threw the notice in the trash (we weren’t recycling then, as I recall.)

CSPI has been pretty much off my radar screen since then, until today. Now, it seems, they get it — at least where sweet beverages are concerned. Here’s a quote from the WSJ article:

Proponents of the tax cite research showing that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity, diabetes and other ailments. They say the tax would lower consumption, reduce health problems and save medical costs. At least a dozen states already have some type of taxes on sugary beverages, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“Soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply, and it’s something government should discourage the consumption of,” Mr. Jacobson said.

It’s no surprise that the main lobbying organization representing the likes of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo object to the idea.

“Taxes are not going to teach our children how to have a healthy lifestyle,” said Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association. Instead, the association says it’s backing programs that limit sugary beverage consumption in schools.

If you read my obesity summit report about Yvonne Butler, you may see the irony in that assertion.

I’m not too concerned about the implied competition between those who want the tax money used to end the obesity epidemic and those who want it for health care reform.  If the tax is adopted, that will sort itself out.

I wish the tax would be extended to artificially sweetened drinks, which have their own harmful effects and relationship to obesity (more about that when I report on research findings presented at the summit.) But anything that discourages consumption of sugar and high fructose corn syrup is OK with me.

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