New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has proposed a tax of 12 cents per can of soda (a penny per ounce). During his weekly radio address, Bloomberg said the soda tax would discourage consumers from buying sugar-laden drinks. According to the NYT, Bloomberg noted research suggesting that such a tax would reduce consumption of the sugary drinks, and drive down obesity rates and their accompanying medical costs. The main thrust, however, was on finding a quick source of revenue for a city in serious need of one. “In these tough economic times, easy fixes to our problems are hard to come by,” he said. “But the soda tax is a fix that just makes sense. It would save lives. It would cut rising health care costs.”
Indeed it might, but taxing soda alone will not promote good health. Like so many others, Bloomberg is using health as the easiest disguise for raising revenue. A soda tax is a deceptive, easy fix – the last thing we should be seeking now. Instead of an easy fix, Bloomberg and other policy makers should seek a long-term sustainable program that educates people about nutrition. If giving up soda is going to save lives, then let’s do it for real. How about making it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy soda? Instead of having teenagers loiter around store fronts trying to get someone to buy them a few beers, let’s have them out there trying to score a can of Coke. And what would happen if McDonald’s couldn’t serve soda to children?
Pepsi and Coca-Cola recently announced they would improve nutritional labeling on their products. If soda is killing us, then let’s not kid ourselves and think that a more visible nutritional label is going to make a difference. We need to go for the skull and crossbones. No one is going to pay attention to anything less than that. You know why? Because no one knows anything about nutritional labels. No one knows that carbohydrates and sugar are the same thing. The people who drink six cans of soda a day have no idea what 28 grams of sugar per can means. They don’t know this because lawmakers are looking for a quick fixes instead of going through the long and difficult process of educating people.
I’m not a Coke or Pepsi advocate. I think they’re selling crap, and I think they know they’re selling crap. But why are we picking on them? Why not tax all food that is crap, including breakfast cereals like this one?
(Apparently regular Froot Loops weren’t sweet enough for Americans, so Kellogg’s kindly created a marshmallow version). Or how about this – instead of singling out only one of the causes of obesity, why not make it difficult and expensive to sell all sugared products? Why not treat all sugars equally, as we treat all cigarette brands equally? Perhaps we can institute laws that require supermarkets to make a junk food section, with a tollbooth at its entrance and charge $5 per person to enter. Such a draconian and expensive measure might really lead to real reduction in the consumption of all junk food.
America’s obesity (and diabetes) problem runs so deep that pointing a finger here or there isn’t going to solve anything. Soda is junk, but it’s merely the junk at the top of the pile.