If only a soda tax were simple

A federal tax on soda is a good idea. Sugary, syrupy beverages are linked to obesity and other maladies, so taxing them would help reduce their consumption and improve health. (If it were only that simple.)

Soda taxes have emerged during this national conversation about health care, after the New England Journal of Medicine published a study in September saying a tax on sweetened beverages would cause a measurable, beneficial effect on public health.

"Much as taxes on tobacco products are routine at both state and federal levels because they generate revenue and they confer a public health benefit with respect to smoking rates," the study's authors said. "We believe that taxes on beverages that help drive the obesity epidemic should and will become routine."

If it were only that simple.

As public health policy, a soda tax is flawless. The costs of obesity — in social and fiscal terms — are well-known, particularly among children. Maine is facing an epidemic of childhood and adult obesity, along with its dangerous corollaries, diabetes and heart disease. If taxes on sweetened beverages could reduce their consumption as much as thought, healthier living would result.

Yet taxes are a two-way street; money is raised, and money is spent. A tax is not just its noble purpose, like improving public health. How the revenue from the levy is distributed, how much and for what, is important. On this latter step, soda tax plans have stumbled.

In Maine, the last attempt to raise soda taxes came along as the solution to funding Dirigo Health, the state's controversial subsidized public insurance plan, which is oft-criticized for spending way too much and delivering far too little. The taxes were roundly rejected at the polls last November.

Tobacco taxes are a problem too, though they're usually enacted, anyway. Revenue from tax increases has been used to fund programs whose costs are growing. The recent example is children's health insurance, which Congress paid for with an increase tobacco taxes earlier this year.

If the tax works, there will be less money. Yet the programs benefiting from these taxes involve health care, which needs an increasing amount of funding. This doesn't square — health policy cannot be built on funding derived from habits the health policy wants to stop. It won't work.

Public benefits from a soda tax are not debatable. But if policymakers want to make a compelling argument for it, they must be rational about how the new money is spent, so giving them a small pile of new money now doesn't lead to needing a bigger pile of new money later.

Again, if it were only that simple.


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 's picture

anyone looked at fruit juice

anyone looked at fruit juice lately? The sugar in some of those is just as much if not more than soda. We could start whittling away at the obesity problem by not allowing those who use food stamps to buy things like soda, and cake and preprocessed foods. I can't afford to buy all those luxury items on a regular paycheck, they have to be saved for a special occasion...and surprise suprise, my family isn't obese. But I also read labels before I just assume something is good for you. I know this...a tax on soda will not solve the obesity problem by a long shot.

 's picture

I am against the "soda tax"

I am against the "soda tax" - as the title of the article indicates "if only it were that simple". Placing more tax on the backs of poor people is not the answer. To start with, one can purchase soda for $1 for a 2 liter bottle. A 100% fruit juice costs between $3-4. Milk costs almost $4 gallon. I understand why low income families might have to choose between healthy and unhealthy beverages. As for the fight to reduce obesity we need to start targeting the real reasons that obesity is a problem in our country. I disagree with fixitoo1. We are all paying a huge price for those people who believe "each person is given the right to live his life at his choice free to do with it as he/she feels fit so long as it does not infringe on others". Obesity leads to many chronic health conditions, as does smoking and substance abuse. As a healthcare worker I take care of patients who ascribe to your kind of thinking. The huge costs that are incured because of repeat admissions and noncompliance to recommended treatment are absorbed by those who have private insurance, driving up health insurance premiums every year with higher deductibles and reduced coverage for what we are paying for. Their "choices" do infringe on others".

RONALD RIML's picture

100% orange juice - not

100% orange juice - not concentrated, is $2.69 per half gallon at my Hannaford.

And drink plenty of water - tap water.

We should tax the hell out of soda - it's a worthless drink.
When I was a young Sailor - I drank like a Sailor, fought like a Sailor, and screwed like a Sailor. Now that I am old and wise - I have a few scars, but many fond memories.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

Ernest All you people that

Ernest All you people that were ful of smiles while Big Brother was looking out for your health wern't paying attention when I said they were going after the fatties next. Well guess what here they come, you bettr hide or they will start taxing you by the pound.

 's picture

Enough is enough with this

Enough is enough with this push by liberals for higher taxes - we must cut spending at all levels of government and the private sector do what they're supposed to do. Despite what the liberals say, more Socialism is not what our USA needs!


the only use for a

the only use for a politician is for live target practice! So what if it violates the constitution of the United States Right? Each person is given the right to live his life at his choice free to do with it as he/she feels fit so long as it does not infringe on others not you and not the goverment this is why I support the comming revolution and hope that these so called do gooders are put away forever!!! So much for a free society until that day comes!!! You are a bunch of Commies in disguise!!!! and you make me sick!!!


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