Some opinion-makers are saying that a national tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Mexico is working and should be replicated in the United States as well. But how do they define “working”?
A letter to the editor by ABA President and CEO Susan Neely that appeared in The New York Times today demonstrates that a soda tax is a misguided policy that distracts us from addressing the true nature and cause of public health challenges.
Taxes on beverages don’t work to improve public health. What they do is raise prices on common grocery items, cost jobs and divert us from real solutions to the health challenges of obesity and diabetes.
In the case of Mexico’s tax, the Times editorial acknowledged that there is no proof the tax has had a positive impact on public health. But the Times editorial board recommends taxing beverages anyway even though the Mexico National Association of Small Merchants says the tax is hitting the poor the hardest and is in part responsible for the closing of more than 30,000 neighborhood stores.
As Neely points out, states like Arkansas and West Virginia, which have excise taxes on soda, are among the states with the highest obesity rates. And states with no soda tax, like Vermont and Colorado, have among the lowest rates of obesity. A 2014 report by the European Commission noted that taxes there targeting foods higher in fat, sodium and sugar failed to show any discernible effect on public health. Such findings led Denmark to repeal its taxes on the targeted foods and beverages.
The true way forward to improve public health with regard to diet is educating consumers about how to achieve balance in their lives. The beverage industry is doing its part. Just last year we launched our Balance Calories Initiative, in partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, to reduce beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20 percent by 2025.
It is through efforts like these that we will see real and lasting solutions to public health issues, not through a misguided policy like a soda tax.