Soda Taxes From All Sides

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Support for soda taxes gained momentum yesterday when The New England Journal of Medicine released a report calling for a tax of a penny per ounce on sugary soft drinks--which could amount to an price increase of as much as 50 percent on a two-liter bottle of soda.

The report says a soda tax could be a win-win for the nation's health: it would decrease Americans' consumption of sugary drinks--which many experts blame in part for the country's obesity epidemic--by about 10 percent, plus the revenue generated from the tax could help pay for health care reform.

The NEJM joined several other voices that have already spoken out in favor of a soda tax, from the New York Times to President Obama:

    • "Best Move" The New York Times advocated for a soda tax in an editorial this week, saying it is "best move when it comes to soft drinks."

    • A recession necessity Atlantic Food Channel curator Corby Kummer wrote in an April post that soda taxes are particularly important a time of economic weakness:

Taxes, [public health activist Barry] Popkin and others said, are the only real way to get people to change the way they eat--and, of course, are paradoxically even more necessary in a recession that makes people fill their stomachs, and comfort themselves, with the cheapest, sweetest calories they can find.

    • An idea worth exploring President Obama told Men's Health magazine that he would consider a soda tax:

I actually think it's an idea that we should be exploring. There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda. And every study that's been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else. Obviously it's not the only factor, but it is a major factor.

Not everyone is so sweet on taxing soft drinks, though:

    • Soda tax=communism Cola-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent reacted to Obama's comment at a Atlanta Rotary club meeting, saying, "I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink. If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around." An analyst for the restaurant-industry supported Center for Consumer Freedom also objected to government involvement in food choices, writing in a Daily News column, "The tax code shouldn't be a tool for punishing companies who make beverages that some people choose to over-consume. Nor should it be an instrument for penalizing individuals who make "bad" food choices."

    • Probably won't affect obesity rates In a column for Forbes, Trevor Butterworth questioned whether raising taxes on soda really would help America lose weight. He cites a research report from Contemporary Economic Policy that concludes, "The evidence to date is that soft-drink taxes are ineffective as an 'obesity tax.'"

And some remain on the fence. Atlantic nutrition expert Marion Nestle expressed curiosity about and tempered support for soda taxes:

As I love to point out, it did not used to be OK for kids to drink sodas all day long. Now it is. Taxes might encourage some changes in these recent practices. It will be interesting to watch this idea progress.
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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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