February 18, 2010

Soda Tax Proposed

Yes, you read correctly.  A tax on soda.  Politicians are comparing soda to the "Big Tobacco" of old, pinning the blame for the obesity and diabetes epidemics on soda.  They draw parallels between the youth driven advertising and health problems in both.

Their plan includes: eliminating soda and candy from schools; placing a tax on soda and other sugared beverages to increase their price significantly; requiring tobacco-inspired warning labels about the sugar and calorie content; and creating a marketing campaign to educate the public on the evils of high sugar consumption.

Officials say that sugar consumption is much higher than it should be, which I don't think anyone can deny.  They say that part of the problem is the relative cheapness of unhealthy food and the relative expense of healthy food, like fresh fruits and vegetables.  They say that the proposed taxes could be used to subsidize fruits and vegetables, fund their marketing campaign and pay for health and nutrition classes in public schools.

First, let me say what I like about this plan.  I like that the government is concerned with the current health crisis and is looking for a solution.  I like that public education, the expense of healthy food and revamping the food available in schools have all been put on the table.  And that's about it.

I have quite a few problems with this idea.  First of all, soda and other 'sugared beverages' are not the only problem foods.  Soda is certainly part of the problem, but what about fruit juices that are packaged especially for children that are loaded with sugar?  Why not regulate juice boxes first, rather than attacking soda.  What about processed snacks, and the variety of high-fat chips and salty snacks?  What about school lunches, which, frankly, leave much to be desired?

Regulating the food available in public schools is fine with me, but the problem comes in when the schools try to regulate what parents pack.  If a parent is packing a lunch for their child, I don't think schools should be able to tell them what is or is not ok to put in it.  If I want my child to occasionally enjoy a trash-food cupcake or sugary beverage, that is my business, not the school's and not the government's.

Second, I can't see how the proposed tax dollars will be stretched to cover all their proposed uses.  Subsidizing fresh produce, advertising and health classes?  And all of this when budgets are being slashed nationwide; when hundreds of teachers will lose their jobs next year to massive budget cuts?  All that I see happening is that the cheap foods will become more expensive, stretching family budgets that don't have any breathing room as it is.

Third, I think soda can be, and is, enjoyed in moderation by many thousands of people.  It is not the same thing as tobacco.  The ill effects of the two products can't be compared side by side as though soda is on the same level.  This is a poorly thought-through idea because it will not fundamentally change the tastes and habits of the American people.  It will A) make them angry and B) not teach healthy choices.  People may simply switch to high-fat or high-calorie snacks.

And, finally, I resent the idea that the government is even thinking about regulating my soda consumption with a tax.  They want to require clearer labeling?  Fine.  They want to make better health education a priority?  Great.  They want to improve those hideous school lunches?  Fantastic.  But do not step into my life and make my occasional enjoyment of a soda more expensive than it already is.  My budget is tight enough, thank you very much.

[NY Times]

No comments:

Post a Comment