Why Soda Taxes Won’t Work


(If you drive a car car), I’ll tax the street,
(If you try to sit sit), I’ll tax your seat,
(If you get too cold cold), I’ll tax the heat,
(If you take a walk walk), I’ll tax your feet.


            …The Beatles

The debate on taxing soft drinks continues in Washington. USA Today reported yesterday that the soda tax was still under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee. Health experts are arguing that taxes will lower sugared soft drink consumption and, ultimately, result in consumers’ losing weight. Of course this is also good for the Federal Treasury since new revenues will be collected.

At issue is the fact that excess calories from ANY source are the problem as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine this spring.  Also missing from the debate is a study by academic researchers Fletcher, Frisvold and Tefft that concluded the impact of taxes on obesity would be marginal even if soft drinks were taxed at the rate of cigarettes. 


On the flip side, industry mouthpieces are also missing the mark. Their position that focusing on “calorie balance” does not offer an actionable solution. Lost in the shuffle is that, compared to 50 years ago, 800 extra calories per person per day are being supplied by the food industry. 


A better way to tackle the obesity epidemic is to unleash the food companies to lower the calories they sell and to use their advertising budgets to educate the consumer about portion control. This could be effected by a tax credit for reducing calories and earmarking a certain portion of food advertisements for public service messages about eating healthier.


Getting the calories off the street is the solution. Taxes won’t get the job done. It’s time to put a plan in place that works for all parties.

3 Responses to “Why Soda Taxes Won’t Work”

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