Sunday, June 11, 2006

Doctors Want to Tax Soft Drinks

Items for consumption that are bad for you, but legal, often carry a hefty tax. Alcoholic beverages, for example, and tobacco products are taxed heavily.

And some say it’s time to start taxing another class of beverages that have also been shown to be unhealthy – soft drinks. The American Medical Association passed a resolution last week to encourage localities to put a tax on soft drinks.

I agree that sugary soft drinks are not healthy for you. But I’m not sure that taxing them is the answer. For one thing, I’m sure the tax would apply to all soft drinks, even the ones without sugar. For another, soft drinks are not the only sugar-filled beverages on the market. Do the others get a walk?

Take orange juice or apple juice, for example. You might believe that juices are healthful because of all the vitamins they contain. The truth is, an eight-ounce serving of orange juice contains more sugar and more calories than the same size serving of soda pop. Sure, there is some vitamin C, but there are better ways of getting vitamins than by consuming all that sugar.

In addition to causing obesity, sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as fruit juices, definitely lead to tooth decay. That in itself might be too high a price to pay for the momentary pleasantness of the taste, even if it contains a few vitamins.

So what’s wrong with a tax on soft drinks then?

In theory, it does tend to make sense. The revenue collected would be earmarked for health programs that combat obesity. The higher prices might also decrease consumption a bit.

The problem is with focusing only on soft drinks. True, soft drinks are claimed to be a big causative factor in America’s portly obesity rate. But the culprit is not the drink itself, but the sugar that’s in it.

Diet soft drinks do not lead to obesity, and I’m sure they would be taxed as well. And, as stated, other drinks that contain sugar are also at fault. But it’s not only drinks that are the problem. Why not also tax candy, cookies, donuts, and all those other yummy snack delights that make us fat and give us diabetes?

If we tax soft drinks, why shouldn’t we also tax other unhealthful foods and beverages? It doesn’t seem fair to single out just one class of foods. If we’re going to have a sugar tax, it should apply to all offending products.

Americans are not going to cut back on their consumption of soft drinks or other sugary foods anyway, not even if taxed. Although studies show that tobacco use decreases in proportion to the amount of tax levied on it, there is no proof that the same would hold true for soft drinks. It would take a very hefty tax to curb consumption of pop.

The concept of taxing things that are bad for you is sound. It does raise money, which if used properly would help to educate the public on the dangers of an unhealthy diet. And taxes might reduce consumption of the offending product.

But in the end, it’s the consumers themselves that have the real choice in the matter. As long as people choose to consume unhealthy foods and beverages, those chock full of sugar, salt, and trans fats, then America will continue to be a nation filled with overweight diabetics with heart problems.

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