Friday, May 15, 2009

Proposed tax on Soft drinks in the US: what about the fun?

It looks as though various states in the USA are considering bringing in a tax on soft drinks that contain sugar in an effort to curtail the somewhat ludicrous consumption habits of the American population. According to John Berman of World News “The average American drinks the equivalent of 50 cans of soda a month. And we drink more soda than bottled water, milk or coffee.”

This is quite clearly a problem, seeing as there are approximately 150 calories in every can. I suppose you might say that in reality this is not all that much, even if you drank nearly 2 cans per day, but I think its worth keeping in mind that this average figure of 50 probably has large deviation, I have been to America several times and seen the drinks sizes consumed at McDonalds and the like -WAY more than 2 cans - probably more like 4, and then we are talking of more like 600 calories.

“A 1 penny per ounce tax-on sugared beverages could lead to a bout a 10 percent reduction in population consumption which could be a public health home run.” is what Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center Director for Obesity at Yale thinks about the matter, and most people would agree that additional taxation on products that cause health problems is entirely reasonable, especially in a country where the obesity problem is out of control.

This view is not held by the soft drinks industry, and I suppose in reality that is not all that surprising. Susan K. Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, recently appeared in an interview and had a slightly absurd contribution to make the issue. "Soft drinks don’t play any role in the obesity epidemic" said Neely, adding "Soft drinks are just a fun beverage along with a lot of other beverages and foods that we like to eat or drink. It’s eating too much of something that is a problem".

Now excuse me if I am being overly harsh, but to say soft drinks "don't play any role" in the obesity problem seems like incredibly wishful thinking, perhaps you could say they play a small role, a minor role, something - just don't say they have nothing to do with it. Secondly I don't think I have ever heard anyone come to the defence of a product by citing its "FUNness", that sounds like the sort of arguments a 8 year old might make.
The whole "FUN" theme seems to be a constant feature rolled out by the American Beverage Association, they say in their blog:

"Like we often tell you, we’re a fun industry with a fun history full of fun stories that happens to make fun beverages meant to be enjoyed"

I like what comedian Stephen Colbert had to say about this importance the organisation is putting on "fun": "Yeh... things that are fun are never bad for you, we learned that from unprotected sex"

Although soft drinks are clearly not the only factor to blame for obesity they are however a large contributor, and an easy target to start the reform off, I think that taxing (and btw the proposed tax isn't all that high) sugar laden soft drinks makes complete sense, and if it leads to better health for the population, and tax revenue that can be spent on the health system I say go for it.


Manuel said...

1 cent per ounce? Sooooo......11 cent a can? What are they bitching about? Although I do agree that her argument is retarded, her last comment about moderation is pretty spot on if you ask me. The same unhealthy crap exists everywhere in the world, it's the amount consumed. But yeah, saying the product is fun. My response to her would be: "Good for you. Now here's something shiny, go play."

Ed said...

Well, yeh I mean its all good and well to say that moderation is where its at, but in reality people arent that good at moderation, Im sure thats especially the case with soda - given "The average American drinks the equivalent of 50 cans of soda a month"

I guess soft drinks are the "low hanging fruit" as such and are being acted on first because they are a very easy target.

It wouldnt surprise me if they make more moves in this regard in coming years - something needs to finance the costs incurred from a population with such high levels of both child and adult obesity (and the related health probs)