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Nationwide soda tax proposal fizzles out

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 09-Feb-2010

The prospect of a national tax on soft drinks has been effectively quashed for the time being as a key congressional committee has refused to consider such a levy, according to a report in the LA Times.

The possibility of a tax on sugar-sweetened sodas and juice drinks has been the subject of intense debate, with advocates claiming that it could help tackle obesity while raising revenue to pay for health care reform or health promotion programs – or shrink the national budget deficit. However, the beverage industry – as well as a portion of the American public – has strongly opposed such a tax, with a range of high-profile anti-tax marketing campaigns, and public and political petitioning efforts.

The decision to leave soda tax off the nationwide political agenda followed closed-door meetings of the House Ways and Means Committee, according to media reports.

State-level taxes

But even if the idea of a federal-level tax has been hushed for now, individual states are still going ahead with their own soda taxation proposals. New York Governor David Paterson, with the support of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, resurrected the idea of a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks last month, as the city looks for ways to close a $7.4bn budget gap. And also last month, Mississippi state representative John Mayo introduced legislation to tax the syrup used to sweeten soda at a distribution level.

The American Beverage Association has been particularly vocal in its criticism of soda tax proposals, calling them “sound bite solutions” and “a money grab at the expense of hard-working families”.

Seeking obesity solutions

“Reducing consumption of sodas and juices with added sugars” is at the top of a list of healthy choices to prevent obesity in a report from the new Surgeon General Dr Regina Benjamin released in late January, Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation. Some think that taxes could be an effective way to do just that, highlighting research that has shown moderately lower obesity rates in states that tax soft drinks.

Obesity rates have skyrocketed in the United States in recent years – 15 percent of the population was obese in 1980, compared to 34 percent today, according to figures from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These swelling figures – along with the rising cost of healthcare for obesity-related diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease – have put pressure on government to find a solution.

In the national debate on the idea of taxing soda, there are those who think it makes sense, pointing to studies that show beverages now contribute 10 to 15 percent of calories consumed by children and adolescents.

Others dismiss the idea as government meddling, and argue that a tax on soft drinks unfairly penalizes responsible, healthy consumers.

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