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Anti-Food Tax Weirdbaggery

July 28, 2009

I don’t know if many of you have been watching television lately, particularly news channels, but the group “Americans Against Food Taxes” have been running these ads against taxing “simple pleasures like soda and fruit drinks.” Here’s the ad:

Does anyone else think this is a little ridiculous? Note that they are not against taxing 100% juice (which is not in any bill in Congress, by the way), but “juice drinks,” many of which have only 5-10% juice content and are mainly sugar and water – basically fruity pop minus the carbonation.

I also think this is sheer weirdbaggery because the people portrayed in the film, clearly white middle class in decent physical health, are not the people being targeted by this ad. Not only would a soda tax raise revenue for the government, but it would bring the price of soda and juice drinks (currently artificially inexpensive) up to par with 100% juice and milk and other more healthy beverages. So soda would no longer be the cheap choice for beverage.

Soda is also a huge contributor to caloric intake in this country. I once read an article that said that for many people, particularly teenagers and college-age men, soda represents more than half of their daily caloric intake. More than HALF. Just from a beverage. Is it any wonder our national waistline continues to grow?

Sweetened soda drinks when they first arrived on the scene in late 19th Century and early 20th Century, were expensive treats of the wealthy. Coke used to be $0.05, back when a dollar was the wage for a hard day’s labor and the bottle was only 6 or 8 ounces. My mother tells of getting coke or other sodas growing up in the ’60s as a special treat, and having to split an 8 ounce bottle with one or more of her siblings. Back then, soda was made with cane sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which some studies have shown to be more detrimental to our health than pure sugar and may even be a contributing factor in developing diabetes. (Which reminds me of the “high-fructose corn syrup is just as safe as sugar” sad-sack commercials the corn industry was looping nonstop a few months back.) Today’s sodas are also extremely acidic, which some studies have shown contributes significantly to osteoporosis at younger and younger ages by people who not only do not consume enough calcium, but who are also consuming large quantities of soda daily.

The ad above is sponsored by Americans Against Food Taxes, which purports to have the support of “individuals and businesses large and small” around the country. Too bad their list of supporters is almost exclusively made up of large companies and corporations, all of whom stand to lose money were this tax to be enacted. The thing is, soda is cheap. Ridiculously cheap. Because HFCS is cheap. So that $1.79 you paid for a 20 ounce bottle of soda? Probably only $0.10 or so of that went into actually making the soda. Maybe $0.10 for the bottle. So that leaves $1.59 in profit for the soda companies (if you know the actual numbers on this, I’d like to hear them). You’d be far better off brewing your own soda, or adding homemade syrups to soda water – just like they did in old-fashioned soda shops and like they do now in soda fountain machines.

Or, you know what? You could just drink water! Wow, fancy that.

Soda used to be expensive. Soda used to be seen as a treat, a dessert even. The soda and beverage industry has worked hard to make soda and other HFCS drinks cheap and viewed as a beverage to be drunk with meals, just like milk, water, tea, and coffee. And the fast food and convenience store industries have worked hard to up our intake by giving us more than we could ever need, just so they could turn a huge profit.

These companies don’t care about giving Americans “simple pleasures” and helping us fatten our wallets in these hard economic times. They don’t even care if we develop obesity, osteoporosis, or diabetes. All they care about is making a buck.

Maybe a soda tax is not the answer to all of our economic woes. But soda consumption and overconsumption contributes significantly to obesity. Obese people are more likely to have health problems, expensive health problems. And because soda consumption is often higher among those of lower economic status, one might assume that obese people are less likely to have health insurance. So they end up costing state and federal governments far, far more than a healthy person.

In looking for the above video, I read in an online forum in which one person cited a study saying that healthy people actually end up costing the government more in health care because we live longer than unhealthy people. Bullshit. In the past 24 years of my life I have had health insurance. And during those 24 years, I have incurred hospital/doctor charges three times (besides annual physicals): when I was born, when I had minor surgery on my earlobe in middle school, and when I had severe mono and tonsilitis this past winter. The last time, though I visited the clinic three times, my health insurance covered less than half of the $400 total.

Healthy people incur far fewer health costs over the course of their lifetimes and are far less likely to develop health issues later in life. Just because unhealthy people “die sooner”, which is not always the case, by the way, does not mean that they do not rack up massive bills in clinics and hospitals, often on the government dime.

Like I said, a soda tax won’t solve this, but it might be a step in the right direction in terms of focusing on preventative healthcare, instead of the “patch-up the symptoms and ignore the true cause” type we seem to have so much of now.

Maybe I’m being controversial, I don’t know, but it seems to me that if you want a healthy nation, you have to take steps to limit unhealthy products that prey on us. There is a tobacco tax. There is an alcohol tax. Both quite hefty, actually. Why not a soda tax? It is, after all, an addictive beverage. Because sugar and artificial sweeteners not only trigger endorphins in the brain, they make us want more. Sound like a drug? Maybe, maybe not. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to my occasional soda at the restaurant.

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