We wrote previously about New York Governor Paterson’s proposed 18% “obesity tax” on regular sodas and juice drinks. The administration expects it would raise more than $400 million per year for health programs. But as expected, the tax has set off a spirited debate and opponents are coming out of the woodwork.
Nutrition experts expressed mixed views on the proposal: some compared it to the approach on cigarettes and smoking, citing it worth a shot to try to prevent obesity in children. Others, including Connie Diekman (past president of the American Dietetic Association), are more skeptical. “Taxing food doesn’t change long-term behaviors with respect to appropriate food choices.” These opponents cite the need for a broader approach centered on education. While we agree broad is good, we think this is an excellent start.
Many New Yorkers are opposed to the tax, worrying about decrease in sales at restaurants and bars and loss of jobs. The American Beverage Association has denounced the proposal, saying it would be paid for by “hard-working New York families” and that it would jeopardize jobs. The beverage industry accounts for 160,000 job in New York State each year, according to the group. A spokesperson described their reaction to the reason for the proposal by saying “If you’re serious about obesity, you’re not going to make a dent in it by singling out one product.” From our view, it’s important to start somewhere and we think this could catch on big-time. Taxing cigarettes, after all, has certainly had an impact.
Regardless of big names adding their weight to the debate, some small business owners in New York City, even in the neighborhoods with greatest rates of obesity, said the soda tax will have little effect on consumers’ decisions to purchase soda. Welll… we certainly think it is worth a try. We do think it’s likely at least some would turn to diet soda, and at a minimum, getting rid of the sugar is a win. Even better – and we hope this is next - would be subsidizing healthy choices like fruits and vegetables and paying to make them more widely available. Hey, maybe that’s what they can do with part of the $400 million – that’s a big number and should go a long way.