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Taxing sugary drinks no way to promote health

I grew up in a family that didn’t permit frequent consumption of soda pop except on special occasions. Trips to our cottage in Virginia meant there was always a six-pack of orange Nehi cooling in the refrigerator, alongside one of Dr. Pepper.
My memories of sipping an icy-cold orange Nehi as I dangled my bare feet off the pier and enjoyed the view of the river are strong. The last thing I was thinking about was how the sugar that went into the making of that delicious orange drink could cause health problems down the road.
As the years have progressed, the consumption of soda pop is no longer a luxury, but an everyday habit for adults and children, whether it is sugar-free or fully-loaded with sugar.
As an adult, I am not a fan of soda pop, no matter what the brand or taste. In my opinion, it’s a drink that has no nutritive value and offers nothing more than taste. Nevertheless, I have been shocked to find an impending beverage tax (S.B. 567) has been proposed in the state of Kansas.
S.B. 567 would impose a 1-cent tax per teaspoon of sugar in various beverages. This tax amounts to approximately 10 cents per 12 oz. container or $1.20 per 12-pack of soda.
The Kansas Beverage Association is fighting the tax tooth and nail, citing the following:
• The beverage industry directly employs approximately 2,000 workers in Kansas, which directly supports other jobs that generate over $200 million annually in state and federal taxes.
• Lost beverage sales can cost revenue for large and small businesses throughout the state.
• Consumers in Kansas who live near a state that does not have the sugar tax will purchase their sweetened pop in another state, which is good revenue for a state like Missouri, but not so good for Kansas business owners.
• Kansas families are already struggling in this difficult economy – asking them to pay more for the products they consume would contribute to additional financial difficulties.
A published report in the New England Journal of Medicine dated Sept. 16, 2009 notes that “Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages has been linked to higher risks of obesity … the revenue generated from a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would be considerable and could be used to help support childhood-nutrition programs, obesity-prevention programs, or health care for the uninsured or to help meet general revenue needs. A national tax of 1 cent per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages would raise $14.9 billion in the first year alone. Taxes at the state level would also generate considerable revenue – for example, $139 million in Arkansas, $183 million in Oregon, $221 million in Alabama, $928 million in Florida, $937 million in New York, $1.2 billion in Texas, and $1.8 billion in California.”
But the Journal goes on to say that “taxing sugar-sweetened beverages will not solve the obesity crisis and is a blunt instrument that affects even those who consume small amounts of such beverages.”
The bottom line is that taxing the beverage companies is not really going to solve the obesity/diabetes/heart problems in this country. Those who drink soda pop habitually are going to continue to buy it anyway, whether it is sugar-sweetened or diet – both of which are empty, non-nutritive calories.
Those who are struggling with their grocery bill now are going to buy cheaper versions of the soda they already purchase and still be paying the extra taxes and still consuming a product that has no nutritional value.
A big question to ask is this: “Is Kansas truly going to earmark beverage-tax revenues for obesity-prevention programs or is the revenue going to go elsewhere – quietly and neatly?”
There’s no question the U.S. has an obesity problem, but to place the blame on the sugar-laden soda pop industry is pointing a whole lot of fingers in just one direction. Why not charge an extra tax on all products containing trans-fatty acids that cause cholesterol problems and, therefore, heart problems? What about the candy/cookie/dessert industry? Shouldn’t ice cream, candy bars and chocolate chip cookies have an extra tax for the sugar they contain? While we’re at it, why not focus on the beef industry? There have been scores of reports that say eating red meat is not healthy for the heart. Is there a tax waiting in the wings on red meat? For that matter, why not go after every product on the market that contains sugar?
A report written for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation noted that “Children’s calorie intake from sugar-sweetened beverages has doubled since the mid-1970s, with children in 2001 ingesting more than 10 percent of their total daily calories from sugar-sweetened beverages.” (The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s mission is geared to improve the health of all Americans)
Currently, 33 states have taxes on soft drinks, though not all states have a sugar tax on the content of sugar within soft drinks.
Recently in Philadelphia, Pa., a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks was proposed. This would include any beverage with added sugar – soda pop, bottled chocolate milk, coffee drinks and energy drinks.
Aren’t we taxed enough?
Interestingly, the beverage companies themselves have voluntarily begun to address the problem of obesity and are working with First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to help families make informed choices as part of a balanced lifestyle.
The American Beverage Association has committed to displaying total calorie counts on the front of all containers and on selection buttons on vending machines by 2012. Soda fountain equipment labels will also have calorie counts prominently displayed.
Many beverage companies have already changed the products they place in school vending machines by placing healthier choices such as water, milk and juice products in their machines.
A number of states already have initiated a sugar/beverage tax. However, Maine voters overwhelmingly rejected (64 percent) a beverage tax to fund healthcare problems in November 2008.
According to a Rasmussen poll, 70 percent of Americans oppose a national tax on all non-diet soft drinks, while only 18 percent of the public support the idea of an “obesity tax.”
Taxing American businesses with a tax such as the sugar tax, is a back-door way to address a state’s budget shortfalls, that manages to hit the consumer in the pocketbook, too.
There is no question that Americans need to make sound, wise decisions about the healthy consumption of food and beverages. It isn’t just sweetened beverages that cause obesity, diabetes, heart problems and other health issues. Consuming processed foods loaded with chemicals and preservatives isn’t exactly healthy, either.
Saddling consumers with more taxes in an effort to get them to be healthier isn’t the answer. Educating adults and children about the long-term effects of consuming unhealthy beverages and foods would be more prudent step forward than taking away the rights of beverage companies – and their employees – to earn a living manufacturing beverages.

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