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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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