Post 5: Soda Tax

In the past several years soda (sugar-sweetened beverages) taxes have been implemented in a variety of cities and states in order to help combat our obesity epidemic. The tactic is similar to the relatively successful strategy of using increased taxes to curb smoking and tobacco use. Some of the revenue generated from the tobacco tax was then used for educational material that discouraged the use of tobacco because of its health consequences. There are obviously still smokers today, but there are significantly less than 30 years ago. A soda tax could work in the same way. A 1-2 cent tax on each ounce of sugar sweetened beverage could create revenue that could then be used to implement more educational programs as well as counteract the toll the obesity epidemic has cost our health system. Of course a soda tax like this wouldn’t solve the problem; it is much too complex for that. However, it could be a step toward improvement. I honestly don’t think it will stop all that many people from drinking soda, but possibly the revenue it created could be a catalyst for change. On the other hand, taxes such as this disproportionally affect low-income households. One study (linked below) by Roland Sturm, et al., found that low taxes (around 4%) did not have a substantial effect on soda consumption. However, a few subgroups including at-risk overweight children coming from low income families did appear to be more sensitive than others to soda taxes (1). This was especially true when soda was available at school. So a small soda tax could affect the behavior of at least a few subgroups of the population. I personally have an issue with the thought of using taxes to try to force behavior change. In an ideal world, as long as accurate nutritional information is available and everyone has the access to healthy choices they should have the freedom to make their own consumption choices. However, in this complicated world, people whose choose lifestyles that cause serious health problems do not just affect themselves, they affect the entire health system. So as much as I don’t like the idea of using taxes as a tool for behavior change, a soda tax could at least bring in funding for a variety of programs that could help improve the health of our health system, such as nutrition education programs, increasing access to healthy options in food deserts, or offsetting costs of obesity on the health system.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc2864626/

 

http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/03/soda-tax/

 

http://www.ameribev.org/news–media/videos–multimedia/

 

 

http://taxfoundation.org/blog/rhode-island-considers-soda-tax

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2 responses

  1. It might be hard to think about it, but one of the primary purposes of taxes both on products themselves, and annual filing laws, is to curb behavior in the population. Just as you point out cigarette taxes are so high they are prohibitive for low-income people. Going the other direction, the government gives income tax credits for doing things they decided are favorable, such as getting married, purchasing a house, having children, going to school, etc. I don’t think most people think about taxes when they make these decisions…but it looks like the government is already rewarding “good” behavior and punishing “bad” behavior, it looks as though sweetened beverages are next in line.

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