Ponder a soda tax


IF GOVERNMENT can levy taxes on tobacco products to generate not only revenue but confer public health benefits with respect to smoking rates, why not apply the same principle to taxing sugary soft drinks to raise funds for health-care reform while fighting obesity? Obviously, the beverage industry has plenty of reasons to oppose the proposal, but strong advocates in the medical community make the idea one worth considering.

A team of prominent doctors, scientists, and policy makers who researched the subject are convinced that a tax on any soft drink with any added caloric sweetener that helps drive the obesity epidemic could cut consumption.

In a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the group proposed an excise tax of 1 percent per ounce for sugary beverages.

They said studies have shown that taxes can lower consumption of soda and other sweet drinks - sugar-free diet drinks are not included - enough to lead to a small weight loss and reduced health risks among many Americans.

And the American Heart Association, which has urged the public to cut back dramatically on sugar, has singled out soft drinks as the top source of "discretionary" sugar calories.

Kelly Brownell, lead author of the report and also the head of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, notes that while 33 states have sales taxes on soft drinks, "the taxes are too small to affect consumption and the revenues are not earmarked for programs related to health."

Mr. Brownell also says the proposed tax on sweetened soft drinks would have an immediate and powerful impact on the nation's elevated obesity rate.

But he further acknowledges how difficult it will be to get such a tax through Congress and suggests states may have to take the first step in the same way they did in heavily taxing tobacco in an effort to reduce smoking and defray the costs of smoking-related illnesses.

Certainly, potential health benefits should be motivation enough to weigh in on the issue of taxing soft drinks to fight obesity.