Marketplace Scratch Pad

Sugar, sugar

Scott Jagow May 12, 2009

A Senate committee is hearing proposals that would help pay for the President’s $1.2 trillion health care plan. As you may have heard, one of them is a tax on soda. It would include certain fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and ready-to-drink teas. It would not include most diet drinks.

I don’t know if this is going to pass. It didn’t in New York. That was a penny per ounce tax. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a much smaller tax of 3 cents per can of soda would generate $24 billion in the next four years. That can’t be a serious proposal to make a dent in $1.2 trillion or a serious deterrent to people buying soda.

If the government stipulates that this small amount of money will go toward getting soda out of schools and to health education/exercise programs for kids, maybe it will fly.

But it sounds right now like the proponents of this believe taxing soda will lead to fewer overweight people. I’m highly skeptical of that claim. Being healthier is about discipline and lifestyle choices and educating kids about them. If the government really thinks this is a valid strategy, then it should increase taxes on doughnuts and ice cream and candy bars and frankly, a million other foods that are unhealthy when eaten in excess.

Oh, and don’t forget about taxing video games and television sets and maybe books, because reading is sedentary too. Or are books deemed healthy and not taxable… like diet sodas?

Cigarette taxes have been effective because they’re high and there aren’t a million other legal addictive products like tobacco.

Sugar is everywhere. Calorie labeling and other information has been a positive government action. This doesn’t sound like that at all.

But that’s just one opinion. What do you think?

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