Editorial: Big Soda--Just Like Big Tobacco

The beverage industry resorts to dirty tactics to prevent sugar tax

Dr. Kelly Brownell

The following is excerpted from a Time Magazine editorial written by Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Nearly 20 states or cities in the United States have considered or are considering the possibility of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), which I have supported for nearly two decades. SSBs are the single-greatest source of added sugar in the American diet, and the research linking SSB intake with obesity and diabetes is stronger than for any other food or beverage category. The average American consumes 50 gallons of SSBs per year.

Adding a penny-per-ounce tax on any beverage with added sugar could not only help reduce obesity and its accompanying high health care costs, but would also generate much-needed revenue. The projected benefits estimated by economists are impressive: 10-23% reduced consumption, and $50 billion in health care savings and $150 billion in revenue over 10 years.

This is not a fringe argument. A long list of organizations has called for reductions in SSB consumption. In addition, cities around the United States have launched aggressive anti-soda campaigns.

But the beverage industry, dominated by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and represented by the American Beverage Association, has exercised its might against this public-health initiative in ways reminiscent of the tobacco industry when it came under attack in the 1950s. The beverage industry argues that such taxes are “discriminatory” in singling out one category of food, that taxes would not work, and that government should not tell people what to eat. The tobacco industry said taxes would not work (they did work--tremendously well) and that government should stay out of people’s choice to smoke.

Similar to tobacco companies, the soda industry has created a front group, Americans Against Food Taxes, to run anti-tax campaigns (a Super Bowl ad, for example). The name of the group implies a patriotic, grass-roots movement, not a highly financed entity initiated and organized by industry.

The soda industry hit a new low this year. …

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