You might have read an opinion piece in the New York Times by Mark Bittman this past Sunday. It’s no surprise that this long-time critic of the beverage industry wants to try to solve the complex issue of obesity by taxing our products, but what is surprising this time is that he broadens his misguided idea beyond soda. But, Mark, come on - we can't tax our way to better health.
Common sense tells us and science proves for us that the key to maintaining a healthy weight is to balance calories consumed – from all foods and beverages – with those burned through physical activity and exercise.
But the weakest part of Bittman's argument, since paying the taxes he proposes won't be optional, is his justification for using force to change people's diets. The government simply would be "fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good," he says. Treating diet-related diseases costs money, he adds. "The need is indisputable," he avers, "since heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all in large part caused by the Standard American Diet." Furthermore, "look at the action government took in the case of tobacco." In short, "public health is the role of the government, and our diet is right up there with any other public responsibility you can name, from water treatment to mass transit." So many assumptions, both fiscal and moral, packed into so little space. Bittman does not pause for a moment to consider the vast expanse of human behavior that is subject to government manipulation under his theory of public health.
At her Supreme Court confirmation hearings last year, Elena Kagan dodged the question of whether the Commerce Clause authorizes a law commanding Americans to eat their vegetables. But at least she allowed that it "sounds like a dumb law." Using taxes to achieve the same end is not any smarter; it just sounds that way.
The facts remain that taxing soda will not make a dent in obesity. Our industry is committed to being part of the solution to reducing obesity. That’s why we have worked with President Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama on our School Beverage Guidelines and Clear on Calories initiatives.
It’s real, measurable results that will have a lasting impact on obesity and other public health issues. Not baseless bull’s-eye painting.