Soda Tax Is A Great Start

by | Dec 19, 2008

New York Governor David Paterson recently proposed a state tax on soft drinks, defending his argument to readers on the CNN website.

After reading his proposal, I agree with him completely. I just wish Starbucks would be forced to carry some of the responsibility as well.

Taxing products known to be deleterious to public health is a proven way to reduce consumption, increase state revenue and raise awareness of the dangers of high-risk commodities (such as cigarettes). There is no reason to suspect New York wouldn’t see similar benefits in the case of soda. Junk foods and soft drinks are currently placing a tremendous burden on our society in both health care costs and lost working hours.

Moreover, high-fructose corn syrup (the primary sweetener in soda) is derived from corn crops that are heavily subsidized by the federal government. These subsidies artificially reduce prices of soda below the true cost of production. It is therefore hard to argue that the proposed tax is putting an unfair financial burden on consumers who wish to drink full-calorie beverages: currently it is the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the bad habits of others.

So although I still favor completely revising the farm bill, taxing consumption is a reasonable alternative.

Another thing to consider is that these products are essentially to candy what crack is to cocaine (quickly ingested poison), so they do indeed pose a unique hazard to American health and are thus an ideal target for the first junk food tax. The current proposal adds a 15% tax to non-diet sodas as well as fruit drinks that are less than 70% real juice, adding only a few cents to each individual purchase–$0.15 to the dollar.

Paterson estimates the tax will raise $404 million dollars in revenue for the state of New York, that would go toward public health programs, including obesity prevention.

Whatever happens, expect a ferocious battle from industry giants (and FOXNews). They will argue for consumer freedom and against the benefits of switching to diet soda (I agree with this one, no kind of soda is healthy), but will conveniently overlook the data linking junk food and soda to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer, as well as the costs to the American public.

The good news for the rest of us is that if New York does manage to pass this tax it is reasonable to expect California and many other states to follow suit (see trans fat and tobacco), resulting in a tremendous sea change in our nation’s policy toward junk food in general.

This is exactly the change we need.

Currently all Americans are paying for the poor nutritional culture our nation has embraced. The top 3 causes of death in the U.S. (arguably 5 of the top 7) are diet-related. It only makes sense to tackle obesity both as a nation and as individuals to protect our citizens and our economy.

Why Not Starbucks?

Unfortunately, right now it does not seem this tax will extend to the sugary cesspool which is Starbucks.

Did you know that a medium cafe mocha from Starbucks has more calories, sugar, cholesterol and saturated fat than a Krisy Kreme original glazed doughnut? Seriously, don’t go near that stuff.

It seems to me that Starbucks and other mega-chains (Jamba Juice?) selling sugar-blended drinks are just as liable as soda companies for promoting obesity with liquid candy, thus warranting the same burden of taxation.

I am not recommending traditional coffee drinks (espresso, cappuccino, etc.) be taxed–they do not contain sugar–but it is heartbreaking to see Frappuccinos being passed off as a morning pick-me-up when in fact they are no different from a milk shake with caffeine.

In short, I think this tax is a fabulous idea that finally begins to address the true costs of junk food and obesity, and I hope the trend continues.

How do you feel about sugar, taxes and Starbucks?

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17 Responses to “Soda Tax Is A Great Start”

  1. Karin says:

    Oh, you’re tuggin’ at our heartstrings now, huh? Appealing to our healthy side with this talk of reducing sugar, and flattering our political minds with this talk of holding obese people responsible for thier sugar addictions- you go Darya!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Finally you’ve posted on this topic. Its only a matter of time before ‘Big Sugar’ gets nailed the same way ‘Big Tobacco’ did, and rightly so. I remember one of my overweight friends in college was addicted to buying these giant frosted cookies from a local Qwik-E-Mart, and couldn’t stop. Once he realized his addiction, he tried to stop cold turkey but the withdrawal symptoms were too much. He lasted only 2 weeks……

  3. Mike says:

    Nice Obama plug……But why the Starbucks hate? Why pick lowly-old starbucks outta the crowd when there are so many other offenders? Why not point a finger at all fast food, which has done nothing but hurt Americans. Probably killed more Americans than any war so far, and will continue for many many years. I would have thought you would approve of starbucks, seeing how it elevated gross gas-station coffee or 7/11 coffee to something that can actually be choked down. And whats Brittney gonna do if you take away her Iced Double Mocha whipped lattes?

  4. doug says:

    So you’re saying that Krispy Kreme should make their donuts caffeinated? Brilliant!!Seriously, though, high five on bringing up the big issues of corn subsidies and the farm bill, as well as every other big issue in here. The way we use corn affects our diet, but also energy and environmental issues, as well as the cost of food. Seeing as how these are 4 of the biggest issues facing America today (to say nothing of the economic impact on farmers in other nations), you’d think there’d be more public discussion about this.

  5. John says:

    So what’s bad about diet soda? Certainly it’s not good for you, but I’ve always assumed it’s more health-neutral than unhealthy. Or by “not healthy” did you mean just that, and not that it’s “unhealthy”? If it’s the “aspartame causes cancer” stuff, I thought that had been studied extensively and never proven.

  6. Matt Shook says:

    I remember when I had my soda “epiphany moment” during my freshman year of undergrad…I thought to myself “This is nothing but a bunch of shitty chemicals I’m drinking.” I stopped drinking soda at that very moment. I consider myself lucky as I know I am unaffected by caffeine and was able to stop drinking soda cold turkey. It was a wonderful decision…I think sugar is something that should be used sparingly…in “special occasion” foods and not a staple of ones diet. If you’re determined to use sweeteners regularly, at the very least you should look into a few healthier alternatives. Local raw honey is the best sweetener I can recommend…not only is it good for your immune system, but consuming local raw honey can help you overcome pollen allergies in your area. (This is very similar to how the Gabrielenos and other indigenous people of SoCal became “immune” to the oils of poison oak by consuming it.) Another sweetener would be raw agave nectar (source out the good stuff) partially due to its low glycemic index. Last would be Turbinado raw cane sugar…which is not great but better than traditional processed “white” sugar.As far as taxes go…I’m a little ambivalent on the matter. I think a soda (and other detrimental consumables) tax is a great idea, but at the same point I am weary of governmental policies which single out a specific area of products/services. I do believe those who contribute to the ever increasing health problems of our society should be held accountable, but I could see them just as easily institute a “raw” or “organic” tax on such foods. Like a typical sci-fi plot on technology and humans…it seems our government is more of an enslaver than a protector these days. (Okay, my argument here is a bit on the lame side.) Having said that, I read a great article yesterday that discussed how the US economic failure is really a health problem.Regarding Star*ucks…well, what is there not to hate? A megalomaniacal and exploitative corporation that has probably wrought 100x more harm than benefits to our world. Are there plenty of offending companies who meet this criteria? Definitely. However, Star*ucks is very deserving of being singled out here…not just for crimes against public health, but economic and environmental devastation.—————————@JohnDiet sodas are really bad for your health…and the aspartame debate is far from uncertain. A bit of research on the history of aspartame can prove to be a fruitful undertaking. Aspartame is nasty stuff that I wouldn’t dare recommend to anyone. I believe diet soda is a bit of an oxymoron…I don’t personally know anyone who has lost weight or become healthier by drinking it. If one is determined to drinking soda, or is looking to ween off it somehow, I would probably recommend China Cola, Ginger Beer, or Steaz sodas.

  7. Trung says:

    I love your HFCS-Candy, Crack-Cocaine analogy. You’ve totally convinced me. From now on it’s only natural sugar and cocaine for me. Yay.

  8. Metousiosis says:

    I assume that the sugar-crack analogy stems from the following article which highlights the parallel addictive properties in rats:'m interested in your thoughts on “Food as a drug or psychoactive”. Obviously, we eat for caloric intake, but it also has a profound psychological affect – making us sad, comforted, happy, etc. And then what about the cravings during pregnancy? What about foods ability to manifest specific memories? Any insights?

  9. Darya Pino says:

    @MikeI think the distinction between junk food and drink is not unreasonable. Sit in Starbucks a few hours and watch how many obese children waddle out with their grand Frappuccinos and you’ll see what I mean.—–@dougThis topic has actually been discussed quite a bit of late. If you are interested in reading more about it I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s work, particularly The Omnivore’s Dilemma.—–@JohnI only meant it isn’t healthy (as opposed to unhealthy), because as Matt said it is just a bunch of chemicals. I am not as convinced as he is that aspartame is bad. I’ve researched it extensively and the science just isn’t there.However, there are other problems with drinking such weird chemicals (like the acidity), but whatever negative effects there are are probably very small.Still I do not recommend it because it is so unnatural. I drink it maybe 2x per year. Water is just so good! Especially if it has cucumbers floating in it.—–@Matt I do indeed enjoy a fine honey 🙂

  10. tbone says:

    Why pick on just soda though? Plenty of substances can be deemed unhealthy or bad for society. Candybar industry? Processed foods like wonderbread? Large SUV’s are the most idiotic automotive application. Why move 200lb of person+ groceries with a vehicle that weighs 4500lb? Lets levy an idiot tax on them! Anyone who flips though 24 hr news channels like CNN and FOX knows TV rots ppl’s brains, tax away!If people WANT an item, then let them pay the full cost for it. Other peoples priorities and health values differ from yours, what gives you the moral authority to impose your sin tax?If there are future lifecycle costs, payment should be made by those who use it. If the reason for these fees are to balance health costs, why don’t we charge people fairly for the cost of healthcare? Should the blogger pay for my diabetes treatment later in life? I choose not to smoke, why am i subsidizing smoker’s lung sugary and cancer treatments?If the individual can not finance treatment to correct the health problems caused by poor lifestyle choices then natural selection is an amazing showcase for others not to take part in that lifesyle.

  11. John says:

    I am quite fond of water and am actually not that big of a diet soda drinker, either. Maybe 2x/month.

  12. Matt Shook says:

    Here’s an article I remembered reading that was critical of aspartame…specifically with brain neurons. However, it does indicate that this is with “excessive” aspartame ingestion. Like so many aspects of life, moderation is the key…

  13. Karin says:

    After reading this post again, I understand what you’re saying- but then what are all of us supposed to drink to get us through the day? Starbucks and diet soda got me through college. This feels like such a strange concoction of food, politics, and health care……

  14. Mike says:

    New Years Resolution: Cut back on Starbucks!!!!!!!

  15. Healthyliving says:

    Ahhh, nothing like thinking back to the old days of buying a soda from the vending machine after gym class in 6th grade. Think of all the memories you will destroy by making soda so unaffordable!!

  16. Darya Pino says:

    @MattExactly. All of the studies that have found ill effects are in animal models with ridiculous dosages, many times what any human would ever consume (per kg). Also, especially with rats, human digestion is really pretty different. I especially mistrust the bladder cancer findings out of Italy.But I whole-heartedly agree that moderation is key. Why gamble with your health when it’s so easy to avoid it?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thats right, stick it to the man!!!!! Actually I guess this would be stickin’ it to the obese starbucks chick who shouldn’t be eating or drinking anything till March to shed those pounds…..anyone ever notice that it is usaually the females who get fat on the sugary starbucks stuff, but dudes get fat on fatty things like burgers and bacon-blankets?

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