Soda Taxes Can Help Fund Health Coverage and Prevention Programs, Say Experts

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Soda Taxes Can Help Fund Health Coverage and Prevention Programs, Say Experts

Plus, Reducing Consumption Can Help Curb Rising Obesity Rates

WASHINGTON - Federal and state governments should levy excise taxes on soda and
other sugary drinks both to raise revenues to pay for health coverage
and prevention programs, and also to decrease consumption of products
that promote obesity, the Center for Science in the Public InterestLiquid Candy Tax Calculator to show policymakers, activists and media exactly how much money states and the federal government could raise in this way.
said today. The nutrition and food safety watchdog group launched a web-based

For
instance, a new federal excise tax of one penny per 12-ounce soda could
generate more than $1.5 billion dollars per year, according to the
calculator. A steeper tax of one penny per ounce could raise roughly
$16 billion a year—an amount that would make a serious down payment on
a comprehensive health care reform bill. CSPI estimates that taxing
soda at that amount would also reduce consumption by 13 percent overall
and perhaps more among children, which would help slow the obesity and
diabetes epidemics. The state of Massachusetts, which is weighing a
sales tax of 8 percent on sugary drinks, could raise $105 million.

"Soda and non-carbonated soft drinks are basically liquid
candy, providing nothing of positive benefit to the diet, just empty
calories," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "It’s
cheaper than dirt, we consume too much of it, and it causes expensive
health problems. The question is why has it gone untaxed for so long at
the federal level?" Also today, leading health care and nutrition
advocates are urging Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus
(D-MT) to tax soft drinks to help fund health reform.

"While many factors contribute to weight gain, soft drinks
are the only food or beverage shown to have a direct link to obesity,
which in turn can lead to hypertension, strokes, heart attacks,
diabetes, cancer, and arthritis, and other health and psychosocial
problems," the advocates wrote in a letter to Baucus. "In addition, consumption of sugary beverages can cause tooth decay and dental erosion."

Besides
CSPI, groups signing on to the letter include the American Public
Health Association, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy,
Consumers Union, Partnership for Prevention, Shape Up America!, and
Trust for America’s Health. Individuals signing include Kelly Brownell
of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and
Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Separately, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has
previously endorsed a tax on soft drinks to help pay for health-care
reform.

In April, Brownell and former New York City Health
Director Dr. Tom Frieden published a much-discussed paper in the New
England Journal of Medicine making the case for a tax on sugared
beverages. (Frieden is now director of the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.) The forward to the paper quoted Adam Smith, the father
of free-market economics, thusly: "Sugar, rum, and tobacco are
commodities which are nowhere necessaries of life, which are become
objects of almost universal consumption, and which are therefore
extremely proper subjects of taxation."

CSPI's calculator also displays the rates of overweight
and obesity in the United States. and in each state, as well as the
costs of medical care due to adult obesity. Of the $95 billion cost to
treat obesity-related disease nationwide, about half is borne by
Medicare and Medicaid.

Though a federal tax on soda would be new, more than a
dozen states already have taxes on soda and other snack foods,
including Arkansas, California, New York, and West Virginia.

In May, CSPI's Jacobson testified before the Senate Finance Committee
urging a new federal tax on sugary drinks, as well as long-overdue
increases in federal excise taxes on alcohol, to help pay for health
coverage for all Americans. When the committee released a list of possible funding mechanisms for health care reform, it did include raising alcohol taxes and a new tax on sugary drinks.

 

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Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.

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