Philadelphian Mayor Michael Nutter recently proposed a two-cent per ounce tax on soda as part of a process to help close the city’s $150 million budget gap. This type of tax is being proposed in other areas as well as a way to simultaneously generate money and fight obesity. According to an article in the New York Times, Americans consume 46 gallons of soda per person annually, the equivalent of 40 pounds of sugar. As quoted in the New England Journal of Medicine (2009), “The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease; therefore, a compelling case can be made for the need for reduced consumption of these beverages.” A tax may decrease consumption of soft drinks among Americans, while the money generated from the tax could be put towards lowering health care costs and increasing nutritional awareness.
However, opponents of the tax claim that the few extra cents being tacked onto sodas will not really be enough to substantially decrease the amount of soda Americans consume. Furthermore, many opponents state the obvious: A soda tax would not nearly be enough to decrease the swarming obesity crisis within America. Opponents also argue that those who do quit their soda drinking habits, particularly children, will simply switch to other sweetened drinks, such as chocolate milk or artificially sweetened juices. (Although, Philly’s proposal plans to impose the tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages, including energy drinks, ice tea, and sugary-flavored milk). Adversaries believe that the government is merely just linking obesity to the tax in order to get Americans to agree to pay additional money needed for the continuously increasing deficits the government is creating. Therefore, they claim it is unfair to just place a tax on something in order to generate extra governmental revenue.
Although the soda tax alone undoubtedly will not wholly solve America’s obesity epidemic, I believe there is no harm in attempting to use it to help cut down on unhealthy diet habits among our citizens. According to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years, forcing America to put $150 billion towards treating obesity-related conditions. One out of every three children is obese. It’s blatantly obvious that we need to start dealing with this issue, and every little step will help. Why not use the soda tax to help moves us in the right direction? While it may be a small step, at least it is a step, one that I can really see little harm resulting from its enactment.
It is not like the government arbitrarily chose an item to slap a tax on. Soda is just like tobacco, an unnecessary comfort in which people choose to indulge. Sure, indulgence is okay once in awhile, but this is exactly why sodas are not being banned altogether. Instead, just like cigarettes, the unessential-to-life beverage would be taxed. This would create a substantial amount of money (according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 2010, an estimated $70 million per year for Philadelphia) that could be used to both help decrease governmental deficits and promote nutrition. Even if the tax did not decrease the amount of soda people consumed, at least it would generate money that could be put towards educating people about the seriousness and prevalence of obesity and how to prevent it from a continuous increase. I really don’t see how a soda tax would be harmful. Sure it will take a toll on some people’s pockets, but eventually those people will learn to save their money for healthier, more essential food items, ultimately benefiting them in the end.
Over half of Philadelphian residents are overweight or obese, with 70% of North Philadelphians measuring as overweight or obese. These statistics alone show that Philadelphia could definitely benefit from a soda tax. Whether the tax will actually get people to stop drinking soda and start running towards healthier options, who knows. Either way, the money could be used to help educate people on why they should take action to prevent obesity, particularly in the poor neighborhoods, which often lack the means to thorough education on health management and tend to be the highest consumers of soda. At the least, a soda tax would help Philadelphia close its $150 billion deficit. It seems reasonable to me to use an unneeded beverage to help do this rather than cut back on public services or increase overall taxes. Could this actually be the first time the government turns astray from its normal subsidies towards junk food and starts promoting healthy food (even if it’s just through demoting unhealthy items? We’ll see if this measure will actually stand strong and get passed.
Is your town/city trying to implement a soda tax? What is your opinion of placing a tax on soda?