Soda tax makes no (public health) cents

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The Los Angeles Times mistakenly believes that a “sin tax” on sugary beverages recently proposed by California State Assembly Health Committee Chairman William Monning (D-Carmel) will somehow reduce obesity.

In an article that appeared on Friday, journalist David Lazarus argues that the suggested one-cent-per-ounce tax would reduce the toll of obesity by making high-caloric beverages like soda less attractive to consumers while funding initiatives to promote fitness, such as the creation of bike paths and basketball courts. He also justifies the tax by citing the example of the tobacco and alcohol taxes that supposedly fund smoking- and alcohol-cessation programs. The calories from sugary beverages, however, only account on average for ten percent of total caloric intake. Mr. Lazarus even proposes expanding Monning’s soda tax to fast food menu items by charging a penny for every 500 calories served. Lazarus does, however, concede that such “sin taxes” by themselves won’t solve the obesity epidemic, but he reserves this brief admission for the very end of his article.

Questioning the legitimacy of soda and “junk food” taxes, ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan says that “Mr. Monning is enamored with taxes generally. He just sees soda as a source for generating revenue. His reasoning that taxing soda consumption will curb obesity is a joke.”

Skeptical that the resultant tax revenue from such programs actually finds its way to funding public health programs, ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross also takes issue with Lazarus’ decision to lump “sin taxes” on sugary beverages and “junk food” with those on tobacco and alcohol. “As we recently had the opportunity to re-learn, moderate levels of alcohol intake are a health benefit — so why lump alcohol with tobacco, anyway? This is just an example of the simplistic and superficial evaluation of the root causes of obesity evinced by this horrendous and counterproductive bill and the poorly written article describing it.”

ACSH staffer Susan Ingber wonders whether soda taxes, assuming they actually deter consumers, might worsen the obesity epidemic by leading consumers to simply substitute other more calorie-dense foods for the disfavored sugary sodas?