Soda Taxes lose, even in blue states

The following article appeared in the Orange County Register March 12, 2013, authored by Bob Achermann, Executive Director of the California/Nevada Soft Drink Association.

Soda taxes lose, even in blue states

Obesity is considered a more serious health issue than smoking and tobacco use. It’s consiered more serious than heart disease, HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drug abuse or mental illness. The only health issue considered more serious than obesity is cancer, according to a recent nationwide survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Californians, like the rest of the nation, acknowledge obesity is a serious problem. Unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity are considered greater health risks to children than illegal drug use, according to a 2012 Field Poll of California voters.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, television’s celebrity surgeon, addressed the obesity crisis at the National Governors Association Conference in Washington, D.C., this month. He implored governors to develop their own statewide plans to reduce obesity, including new laws and regulations.

A bill to tax sweetened beverages has been introduced in the California Legislature. The revenue would pay for a new childhood obesity program. Similar legislation was introduced in 2010 but failed to gain traction. Another new tax to pay for another new program will leave many voters skeptical.

Two California cities made attempts at taxing soda and other beverages last November. Richmond, a working-class city outside San Francisco, seemed an ideal location to pass the first tax of its kind on beverages: Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly seven to one, and the city’s residents traditionally vote in favor of new taxes. The same political calculation applied in El Monte, a suburb of Los Angeles, where residents a few years earlier voted to increase their sales tax to 9.25 percent.

Despite promises from city council members that the tax revenue would be spent on programs to reduce obesity, Richmond and El Monte voters sent strong messages of disapproval on Election Day. In Richmond, 67 percent of voters were against the measure. In El Monte, the no vote was more lopsided: 77 percent.

These rejections were the latest in a tidal wave of opposition to government intrusion over what to drink and how much. Four years ago in reliably progressive Maine, the state Legislature approved a tax on sweetened beverages, which was quickly overturned by 65 percent of voters in a referendum. Washington State’s Legislature passed a similar beverage tax in the final hours of the 2010 session, and it, too, was overturned by referendum. Philadelphia’s mayor and the former governor of New York each twice attempted beverage taxes but were unable to have them enacted.

What should we glean from voters in arguably the bluest sections of the bluest states, who are rejecting soda taxes by large majorities? It’s this: What you eat, drink and feed your family is your choice and does not need government control, oversight or influence.

The same poll that showed obesity is a major health concern among Americans also found that 82 percent of respondents believe the major reason of the country’s obesity problem is too much time in front of TV, video games and computer screens.

It’s nonsense to think government can – or should – change what we eat and drink. If we want to get serious about obesity, we should start with education – not laws and regulations.