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Let's Ask Marion: Is NY's "Fat Tax" On Soda A Good Idea?
Submitted by KAT on Tue, 12/16/2008 - 9:05am.
Kat: New York Governor David Patterson's new budget plan calls for plumping up the state's coffers by slapping a so-called "fat tax" on non-diet sodas. This measure would reportedly raise $404 million in much needed revenue--and would presumably encourage some folks to cut back on sugary beverages. What do you think: is this a win-win, or a nanny state no-no?
Dr. Nestle: The governor must be desperate for money to take on soft drink lobbying groups, who reporters tell me, are already in Albany hard at work. This is an old idea, first attributed to Kelly Brownell at Yale and Michael Jacobson at Center for Science in the Public Interest, who based it on the success of high taxes in reducing rates of cigarette smoking. With cigarettes, there was a clear link between cost and usage. The higher the cost, the fewer people smoked.
The governor is picking on soft drinks for good reason. They have calories but no other nutritional value, which is why CSPI calls them “liquid sugar.” Much evidence demonstrates that children and adults who habitually consume sugary soft drinks take in more calories, have worse diets, and are fatter than those who don’t.
But my understanding is that the tax will be 15%, meaning just 15 cents more for something that now costs a dollar. It’s hard to believe that 15 cents will make a difference in consumption levels. Cigarette taxes are much higher. Also, the tax will not apply to milk, juice, diet soda, and bottled water. I suppose this means that juice drinks and sports drinks are also excluded, sugary as they are.
So I’m a bit worried about the slippery slope. Juice drinks also predispose to overweight, and that’s no surprise. It’s easy to take in lots of calories from juices if you drink enough of them. And then there’s the diet soda paradox: people who drink diet sodas also are fatter, perhaps because they retain the taste for sugars and make up the calories in other ways. It looks to me like this tax is more about raising money than preventing obesity. But it’s an interesting experiment, and it should be most entertaining to watch soft drink lobbyists go into action.
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