Raising the Stakes on ‘Soda Taxes’

Articles
May 20, 2010

Raising the Stakes on ‘Soda Taxes’

The beverage lobby would certainly find taxes on sugared drinks to be hard to swallow – and they’re fighting it with messages that such levies represent regressive penalties against lower-income consumers who could least afford to pay them.

The beverage lobby would certainly find taxes on sugared drinks to be hard to swallow – and they’re fighting it with messages that such levies represent regressive penalties against lower-income consumers who could least afford to pay them.

Yet with the nation’s obesity burden and states and municipalities parched for new cash sources in this recession, the beverage lobby isn’t underestimating the tenacity of those who would impose taxes. So they’ve unveiled a new tact in Philadelphia: abandon the tax and the beverage industry will donate $10 million over two years to the Pew Charitable Trusts to fund health and wellness programs in this city, if Pew would accept the funds, reported BNET.com.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was eyeing $77 million in new revenues from the tax, a large multiple of the industry’s charitable offer, said BNET. The Lempert Report is willing to give the industry points for gumption, if not creativity, in its ability to spin the issue and give legislators something new to consider when voting.

However, we also believe that throwing money at an issue is not a resolution; it is an either-or gambit that satisfies neither governments nor industry, and fails to serve consumers who lack the dietary discipline to drink less of the sugared beverages. We’re not taking a position on taxes – yet we do feel strongly that open, honest discussion instead of posturing will go farther in addressing the obesity problem.

We fault the would-be taxers for crying ‘obesity’ when their issue is really deficits. And we fault industry for citing ‘jobs’ and ‘consumers’ inability to pay’ when their issue is really protecting the status quo of manufacturers offering calorie-laden drinks.  Where is the straight talk today?

However this issue turns out in Philly, Rhode Island, New York or other venues, we call on the beverage industry to update their product lineups and formulas to better for consumers. It’s good business too, seeing the current healthier-eating trends and aligning the category with a new sense of purpose.