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The Boston Globe

Soda Tax: It’s the Real Thing

As calls mount for soda to be taxed because of its link to the nation's obesity epidemic, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent tried this week to tar the tax as socialist, taking a page from the Republicans single-word playbook against health care reform, bailouts, and even President Obama's back-to-school speeches.

Kent told the Rotary Club of Atlanta that proposals to tax sugary drinks and trash food were "outrageous'' because "I've never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink.'' Kent added, "If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around.''

Kent is clearly worried because Obama, in the current issue of Men's Health, said soda taxes should be explored. "There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda,'' Obama said. "And every study that's been done about obesity shows that there is a high correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity.''

Obama acknowledged that taxes would be resisted by the soda industry and their political enablers. But he said, "If you wanted to make a big impact on people's health in this country, reducing things like soda consumption would be helpful.''

It is ironic for Coca Cola to complain about Big Brother when the company has so thoroughly brainwashed the world. Coke and the other soft drink makers (this includes sports/energy drinks) have seduced Americans to double their daily intake of calories from sugar water since the late 1970s, fueling a tripling of obesity among youth 12 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In saying he wants to double the global servings of Coke products to over 3 billion a day by 2020, Kent boasted to the Rotary Club of a new $200 million investment in a plant in communist Vietnam!


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In further hypocrisy, Kent spoke loftily of the average life expectancy increasing by five years by 2020 because of advanced medicine and biotech. Never mind the 2005 report in the New England Journal of Medicine that warned that unchecked obesity trends could slash up to five years off American life expectancy, the first sustained drop in modern times.

This has medical experts calling for taxes on soft drinks and trash food. No less than the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies this month recommended "a tax strategy to discourage consumption of foods and beverages that have minimal nutritional value, such as sugar-sweetened beverages.'' The Institute also recommended steps echoing those taken against tobacco: Advertising and marketing bans near schools; zoning restrictions for fast food joints near schools and playgrounds; overall community limits on the density of fast food restaurants; and promoting candy-free checkout aisles.

This week, UCLA health policy researchers called for taxes and fees on sweetened drinks after a new study linked soda and obesity to $21 billion in health care costs in California. In the current New England Journal of Medicine, seven leading physicians and researchers proposed a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. They estimate that a 10 percent rise in the price of soda leads to about a 10 percent decline in consumption. The lead author, Kelly Brownell of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy, coauthored an article in the same journal in April with then-New York City health commissioner Thomas Frieden saying such taxes, like tobacco taxes, could be a "key tool in efforts to improve health.''

Obama eventually picked Frieden to run the CDC. By declaring himself open to trash food taxes, Obama understands how obesity now costs America $147 billion a year, nearly 10 percent of our health care spending. But the soft drink industry has no regard for costs. Lobbying by Coca-Cola, about $1 million a year from 1998 to 2006, zoomed to $1.7 million in 2007, $2.5 million last year and was at the $1.2 million mark halfway through this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The American Beverage Association, which spent $667,590 in 2008 on lobbying, has already spent $1,340,000 through the first six months of this year and launched a $2 million ad campaign against soda taxes.

Coke wants to double global beverage servings as American teen obesity has tripled. This is now a wanton attack on the health of children. Taxing Coke is not communism. It is common sense.

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Derrick Z. Jackson

Derrick Z. Jackson

Journalist Derrick Z. Jackson, a 2018 winner from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, a 10-time winner from the National Association of Black Journalists and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is co-author of Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock (2015). He can be reached at

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