The Beverage Tax

Oil-Coke--32112 One of the many proposed policies aimed at reducing obesity is a beverage tax. New York State has proposed a one cent tax on sugary drinks.

Coca Cola and their lobbying group, the American Beverage Association, are fighting it hard. They've been running commercials about how this is going to cost working families more money and how they're putting in better options into the soda machines at schools.

Supporters say that a beverage tax is no different than the tax on cigarettes, which has helped reduce smoking. It can raise billions of dollars that can be used for good programs. If the tax money that is raised goes directly to the communities that consume these beverages, then it's not a poor tax, like the lottery.

In Diane Sawyer's documentary of Appalachia, she has a long discussion of how the huge consumption of Mountain Dew in that area results in horrible tooth decay by age 30. 

There's a 7/11 about 50 yards from Jonah's middle school. After school, hundreds of kids load up on Slurpies everyday on their way home. A good number of them drink Slurpies for breakfast before school as well. 

Jane Brody from the New York Times reports, "In the last half-century, consumption of sugars by the average American
has increased by more than 24 pounds a year, expanding waistlines and
crowding out more nutritious foods." She discusses the latest research on the problems with soda.

A one cent tax alone isn't going to change consumption habits and probably won't make anyone thinner, but it will raise some good money and help raise awareness that soda shouldn't be an everyday habit. Fast food restaurants should also be pressured to not make soda the default drink in combo specials. Soda machines should not exist in schools. I want the same anti-soda messages in health class at school, just like the anti-smoking messages that my kid has had to learn about since first grade. 

26 thoughts on “The Beverage Tax

  1. The one food-related thing I’ve been able to put my foot down on and win (I’ve had many losses) is not to give the kids soda. My son gets to drink orange soda or grape soda as a treat when we’re out (we have a favorite Mexican restaurant that makes its own soda), but mostly they drink chocolate milk or water. But sometimes, lemonade or fruit punch are the only choices (and really, they’re not that much better than soda!).

  2. This is an area where the subsidy for corn syrup discussed a bit in some of the other posts comes in big. One reason why so much more soda is drank today than in the past is because of cheap corn syrup that makes larger portions inexpensive and so more attractive. It’s not a mystery why, in parts of the world where sugar is used, soda sizes are generally quite a bit smaller. If dumb tariffs and (especially) quotas on sugar imports were removed, sugar would be cheaper in the US than it is, but if we stopped our stupid subsidizing of corn syrup, soda prices would go up more than would be done by this tax and we’d get the benefit of less economic distortion, too. (And better tasting sodas.) I don’t expect this will happen, but it certainly would be better if it did.

  3. I’m a fan of this approach. I probably have said this before in some food discussion but it was truly a pivotal moment for me when I was in Fort Worth and saw one of the most massive pop aisles ever at a Kroger’s – but you could only choose between two kinds of apples.
    Now I don’t think Canada is all that different really in terms of diet, but where I shop there are usually 8-10 kinds of apples and the pop aisle is 1/6th the size of that one. So it was shocking.
    I’m all for a pop tax in both countries.
    Because my son is still blissfully young we are able to really limit sugary drinks. Our defaults are water and milk, with tea and coffee for the adults. Pop is pretty much dessert at our house, not a drink.

  4. I am convinced Americans are all massively overhydrated anyway. Was it the eight glasses of water myth (debunked some years ago) that helped convince us that you can’t survive from meal to meal without having a bottle or glass in your hand, or what? And let’s not even discuss what havoc all the plastic and paper cups we all drag around (because we can’t make it to work without coffee on the way) are wreaking on the environment.

  5. but if we stopped our stupid subsidizing of corn syrup, soda prices would go up more than would be done by this tax…
    It doesn’t look like that. From this site, http://www.beverage-digest.com/cgi-bin/hfcs.cgi, it looks like there is less than fifty cents worth of HFCS in a case (24 cans) of pop (288 ounces). The proposed tax is a penny per ounce or $2.88 a case. The price of HFCS would have to go up by more than 500% to equal the tax.

  6. Pittsburgh’s mayor has floated the same tax. Whatever the merits, the city is too small of a political unit for this to work. People buying larger amounts would have too strong of a motive to drive the extra mile or two for a suburban store.

  7. The proposed tax is a penny per ounce or $2.88 a case. The price of HFCS would have to go up by more than 500% to equal the tax.
    Even better then. Why not do both?

  8. Why not do both?
    Because of the PLCB, I carry on irrational hatred of government controls on beverages. If they pass the “Soft drink tax and you can buy beer and wine in the grocery store act”, I’ll withdraw my objection.

  9. “(And better tasting sodas.)”
    I believed that, too, up until I had the opportunity to buy a case of Dr. Pepper with cane sugar. At least to this taste taster, the cane sugar Dr. Pepper has a nasty aftertaste which isn’t present in corn syrup Dr. Pepper.

  10. I believed that, too, up until I had the opportunity to buy a case of Dr. Pepper with cane sugar.
    It’s been years since I had Dr. Pepper, so can’t say anything about it, but when I went back and forth between Russia and the US fairly regularly, and drank soda in each, the soda made with sugar was always better. (When you can get soda w/ sugar in the US this is usually so, too- Mexican sodas, for example. But again, I can’t say anything about Dr. Pepper, so it may be an exception.)
    MH- I’m pretty sure the law being discussed here is a NY State one. I don’t think they can do anything about where you can buy beer in Pennsylvania, alas.

  11. Down here in South Jersey there an absolutely disgusting product called Boost (aka “Take A Boost” or “Drink A Toast”). It is essentially flat RC Cola. I tasted it once and found it completely undrinkable. But the natives love it, and it is common practice to put it in baby bottles go get the babies to drink more. I know gobs of older (and younger) people with horrible, horrible teeth that suffer from the condition colloquially known as “Boost Mouth.”
    Every time I see it, I think, “I love a glass of coke as much as anyone, but see no reason why it should be any cheaper than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Tax it to the roof!”

  12. “But the natives love it, and it is common practice to put it in baby bottles go get the babies to drink more.”
    My friend who was in North Africa had a local nanny who would put black tea in the baby’s bottle. I have a book I’m supposed to be reading (Amy Laura Hall’s Conceiving Parenthood: American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction) that has a lot of 20th century ads. On of the ads is a 1950s 7-UP ad encouraging mothers to give their infants 7-UP. “This young man is 11 months old–and he isn’t our youngest customer by any means. For 7-UP is so pure, so wholesome, you can even give it to bbies and feel good about it…By the way, Mom, when it comes to toddlers–if they like to be coaxed to drink their milk, try this: Add 7-UP to the milk in equal parts…”
    I know the popular folklore is that formula companies replaced breast milk with their products and isn’t it a shame, but looking at some of the early 20th century ads in Hall’s book, I wonder if the truth isn’t more complicated. There is some focus on convenience (a flapper mom being encouraged to “Take Baby and Go!”) which is probably an attack on breastfeeding as being confining, but I mainly get the impression that the competing product is regular cow’s milk, and the formula companies are most explicitly trying to scare mothers out of feeding it to infants. As a Nestle’s ad from 1914 puts it: “The Dangerous Business of Being a Baby: Dangerous indeed when we see the tiny little bodies menaced by dirty dairies, by sick cows, by ignorance, by disease and dangerous indeed when we know that one baby out of six–last year–died.”

  13. “you can buy beer and wine in the grocery store act”
    In Louisiana, not only can you do that, you can buy hard liquor there, at the drug store and in most 7-11 style convenience stores. Plus I hear the food’s pretty good.

  14. In Louisiana, not only can you do that, you can buy hard liquor there
    Louisiana’s politicians can steal by more direct means and don’t have to resort to creating three separate monopolies for the sale of booze.

  15. Not sure how one develops the addiction to soda. I grew up with nothing but soda in the refrigerator as a beverage and I hate soda. I drank it for a long time just to be social. I rarely buy it for my own family. I have one child who won’t touch it (he hates the bubbles) and another who loves it.
    The addiction to sugar, on the other hand, I totally understand. I recently changed my eating habits and cut out a lot of sugar and processed grains from my diet. I feel great, but it was so hard. I have noticed that since changing my diet, items with HFCS taste way too sweet. I can now eat fruit and really appreciate the sweetness and be satisfied with the taste of dark chocolate when I crave something sweet.

  16. Ragtime and Amy P’s posts reminded me of Laverne DiFazio of Laverne and Shirley fame – her favorite drink was milk and Pepsi (played for laughs, of course). At the time I thought it was just a joke, but if mothers were encouraged to mix 7-Up with their kids’ milk, I wonder…

  17. Speaking of soda, from about the 1920s for some decades later, Dr. Pepper embraced the idea that blood sugar runs low at 10 AM, 2 PM and 4 PM. According to Dr. Pepper advertising of those decades, the healthy thing to do was to “drink a bite to eat” of Dr. Pepper at those times.
    http://www.dublindrpepper.com/faq.aspx

  18. In 1914, cow’s milk might have been less healthy for infants than formula. It was likely to be unpasteurized. According to the CDC, Raw milk and raw milk products (such as cheeses and yogurts made with raw milk) can be contaminated with bacteria that can cause serious illness, hospitalization, or death. These harmful bacteria include Brucella, Campylobacter, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Shigella, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Yersinia enterocolitica. http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/raw%5Fmilk/

  19. “There’s a 7/11 about 50 yards from Jonah’s middle school. After school, hundreds of kids load up on Slurpies everyday on their way home. A good number of them drink Slurpies for breakfast before school as well.”
    I was checking around a bit and couldn’t get too many responses as to how much a Slurpee is, but the thing is at least $1. Two a day is at least $2. We don’t have a lot of 7-11s here (the Sonic Slushie occupies its niche), but I’m guessing that Slurpee consumption leaves the drinker with a brightly dyed mouth and tongue for hours afterward. It’s unlikely that parents of these Slurpee fiends are unaware of what’s going on.
    I note that Starbucks drinks have not shown up in the discussion yet. There are some doozies in there.
    http://www.shapefit.com/starbucks.html

  20. My high school used to sell maple sticks and candy during a ten minute break between second and third period. They eventually stopped this during my junior or senior year because the parents complained that their kids wouldn’t eat breakfast. The soda machines were still there when I graduated.

  21. Maybe they should just forbid selling soda in portions larger than 12 ounces? Would that be enough social engineering? Of course that would create all the more bottle waste.

  22. Y’know, they took soda out of the machines at school and replaced it with fruit juice. I’m as big a fan of vitamin C as anybody, but really, kids and the rest of us shouldn’t be drinking all that much fruit juice, either! Remember how juice glasses used to be small? 20 oz. of the purest fruit juice is terrifically caloric and is only “nutritional” by contrast with the nutritionally bankrupt sodas.
    Better to toss an extra apple or orange into the kids’ bookbags for that after school snack.

  23. Oranges kind of suck as a snack. Too much work to peel. Now I only eat those little Clemintine things, but those are only good for about four months of the year.

  24. Oh no- clementines, at least good ones, are wonderful. They are especially good party food- they make a great sort of chaser for a shot of vodka, for example. This might not be the best use for them in a school lunch, though.

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