Taxes, Bans and Ballots

Knights in CombatLast year two California cities, San Francisco and Berkeley, had soda tax items on their ballots. The soda industry is said to have responded by investing $9 million in a campaign designed to stamp out any bad thoughts about their companies or products. Those elections attracted the attention of two experts, both from Cornell University, but with very different philosophies.

In an essay issued by the university, their positions are described. David Just teaches food marketing and economics, and does not believe that soda taxes are effective against obesity. Also, like every other denier of a connection between sugary drinks and the obesity epidemic, he states that soda taxes penalize the poor more than the rich. When it comes to repeating the party line, Prof. Just can be depended upon. Listen to this carefully honed pronouncement:

While drinking too much soda can lead to obesity, the best research out there shows it is not the soda that is making us fat. It is our overall diet and lack of exercise.

At least this soda apologist has the decency to refrain from claiming that calories don’t count. The statement begins with the astonishingly frank admission that obesity can be caused by too much soda. But the professor goes on to reinforce the big fib, the one that says people can drink all the sweetened beverages they please, as long as they set aside 10 or 12 hours a day for enough workouts to lose those calories.

Also, “the best research out there” makes scientific studies sound like low-hanging fruit that happens to grow on the Research Tree, and corporations just wander around gathering it. In reality, they carefully pick the scientists who do their research. “Best according to whom?” is another viable question.

In Favor of a Soda Tax

The other side is represented by Jeff Niederdeppe, who teaches communications and concentrates on the field of health messaging. He co-authored a study titled, “Americans’ opinions about policies to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

First of all, Niederdeppe says, the advertisements produced by the American Beverage Association are engineered to confuse consumers and/or voters. For instance, their public relations material encourages the public to regard them as courageous knights who fight on behalf of the downtrodden peasants against a proposed turnip tax. In their propagandistic, rabble-rousing way, the ABA talks about a “food tax.” But there is a world of difference between a sugar-sweetened beverage and a turnip.

In Berkeley, more than three quarters of voters approved a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. As 2014 drew to its close, the contrarian California city became the first to institute a soda tax of one cent per ounce, and made $116,000 in the first month. They apparently had not determined ahead of time what to do with the money, and a panel was empaneled to decide. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., Rep. Rosa DeLauro had proposed the SWEET Act, a national soda tax. Reason writer Baylen Linnekin is not a fan:

Rep. DeLauro publicly announced her intentions to introduce the tax during a videotaped appearance at the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s insiders-only “soda summit” in June, shortly before a New York State court sounded the death knell for New York City’s reviled soda ban.

If memory serves, what Mayor Bloomberg tried to do in New York was stop the sale of soda portions larger than 16 ounces, which, when you think of it, was kind of a quixotic move. All anybody would have to do, really, is just buy two. At any rate, that mild attempt could hardly be called a “soda ban.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Two Takes On The CA Soda-Tax Wars,” Manufacturing.net, 10/14/14
Source: “Soda taxes bubbling up all over,” Grist.org, 05/28/15
Source: “There’s Nothing SWEET About the National Soda Tax,” reason.com, 08/23/14
Image by Jeff Kubina

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