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January 1, 2010 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

A Tax on Soda Pop -- They Must Be Kidding

Don't make my Coke more expensive!

New York shoppers waited in a line that stretched one city block to protest a soda tax suggested by New York Governor David Paterson. The protest was one of many organized by Americans Against Food Taxes that describes itself as "a coalition of concerned citizens -- responsible individuals, financially strapped families, small and large businesses in communities across the country -- opposed to the government's proposed tax hike on food and beverages, including soda, juice drinks, and flavored milks."

The organization claims "82,000 individual petition signers," but its website manages to list some of the largest food and beverage companies in the United States who feel threatened by the tax, not the strapped families. Its leader Nelson Eusebio is also executive director of the National Supermarket Association as well as chairman of the New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes.

"An 18 percent tax hike on juice drinks and soda could be the final blow that takes away what I and so many others have called the 'American Dream.' We'll see more iron gates, and more stores closing their doors. It will devastate families and the communities we live in," says Eusebio.

It is a sad commentary on the health and well-being of this country if so many stores must depend on the sale of sugary drinks to survive.

A penny for your obesity thoughts
New England Journal of Medicine The soda tax issue gained national prominence when the prestigious The New England Journal of Medicine printed the article "Ounces of Prevention -- The Public Policy for Taxes on Sugared Beverages," in the April 30, 2009 issue by authors Kelly D. Brownell and Thomas R. Frieden who proposed an excise tax on soda pop and other sweet drinks. The money raised could be utilized to combat childhood obesity.

Dr. Brownell is a professor and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. Dr. Frieden is the health commissioner for the City of New York.

"A penny-per-ounce excise tax could reduce consumption of sugared beverages by more than 10%," the authors write. "It is difficult to imagine producing beverage change of this magnitude through education alone if government devoted massive resources to the task. In contrast, a sales tax on sugared drinks would generate considerable revenue, and as with the tax on tobacco, it could become a key tool in efforts to improve health," they conclude.

Brownell and Frieden reveal statistics to show that in the 1990s decade drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like carbonated and noncarbonated, sports, and energy beverages has increased almost 30%. They state that sugary beverages are the most significant reason for the obesity epidemic. Studies have shown that increased consumption of these drinks is associated with "increased body weight, poor nutrition, and displacement of more healthful beverages; increasing consumption increases risk of obesity and diabetes." The authors say that studies that do not support this relationship are funded by the beverage industry.

Getting juiced is not the answer
Jamba Juice Some communities have waged the war on soda pop not by taxation, but by efforts to remove soda pop from vending machines and not allowing these carbonated beverages to be sold in schools. They have ruled that these beverages be replaced by juices and milk. Their do-good effort really backfires because juices may have as much or even more calories and sugar than soda pop.

The website Hooked on Juice presents a chart comparing the calories, carbohydrates, carbohydrates from sugar, and teaspoons of sugar in 12 ounces of Coca-Cola compared to 12 ounces of popular fruit juices. The 12 ounces of Coke was actually lower in calories and almost the same or lower in teaspoons of sugar than the juices. Seeing these calorie counts in print is quite sobering because downing two cans of Coke a day will be adding 290 calories to the diet while two 12-ounce glasses of unsweetened grape juice will amount to 480 calories.

Drowning in one Big Gulp
Big Gulp The most boggling figure about soda pop excess is that drinking a 12-ounce can is like ingesting 10 teaspoons of sugar. Watching someone walking around with a 32-ounce 7-Eleven Big Gulp with its 300 calories is like witnessing a stomach exploding. But 7-Eleven will happily provide you with a 44-ounce Super Big Gulp with 415 calories or the 64-ounce Double Gulp that packs on 800 calories. Notice that the people walking around with these over-the-top drinks are not wearing skinny jeans.

According to the Delaware, Ohio Health District, a 32-ounce Big Gulp with no ice has the equivalent of 29 teaspoons of sugar while a 44-ounce cup contains 40 teaspoons. The Double Big Gulp amasses 59 teaspoons of that sweet stuff.

On NBC's Today Show nutritionist Joy Bauer said, "Trim 500 liquid calories from your daily diet and you'll save 3,500 calories a week. That's ONE pound lost per week and more than FIFTY pounds lost at the end of the year!"

Some of the items on her list of liquid calories:

    Large movie theater soda (44-oz.) = 550 calories
    Snapple Peach Iced Tea (16-oz. bottle) = 200 calories
    Starbucks Chai Iced Tea Latte = Grande (16 oz.) 260 calories
    Jamba Juice Banana Berry (classic smoothie)
    • 16-oz. = 280 calories
    • 24-oz. original = 450 calories
    • 30 oz. power = 600 calories
    Odwalla Citrus C Monster (16 oz. container) = 300 calories
    Vitamin Water (20 oz. bottle) = 125 calories
Soda tax bubbles up
Because of statements by nutritionists like Bauer, the beverage industry is fighting back by saying they are not totally responsible for the obesity crisis. According to the Huffington Post article "Food Lobby Mobilizes, As Soda Tax Bubbles Up," soft drink companies, supermarkets, fast food producers, and even agriculture interests are organizing to fight efforts to raise money for health care by taxing sweet drinks. The Senate Office of Public Records reports 21 companies spent $24 million during the first nine months of 2009 lobbying Congress to prevent an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, juice drinks, and chocolate milk.

"To say soda is the only cause of obesity, that's not correct. Just walk down the street and count the number of White Castles or Burger Kings or Jack in the Box," said Nelson Eusebio of the National Supermarket Association, Americans Against Food Taxes, and New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes. "If we eliminate soda, would people stay away from fried food, hot dogs and all the other junk out there?"

Kelly Brownell The likelihood of an excise tax passing Congress is rather dim because key members of the Senate Finance Committee are quite sympathetic to the food industry. Chairman Max Baucus, Democrat from Montana, represents a state that produces a significant quantity of sugar beets. Ranking Republican Chuck Grassley is from Iowa, the largest corn grower in the country.

States' actions will be taxing
Any efforts to tax sweetened drinks will most likely begin in the states. Many of them need the money, but are also aware of the health crisis. According to Brownell and Frieden, 40 states have sales taxes on sugared beverages and snack foods, but the revenues generated are small and are not channeled into health care.

"It's just a matter of time," Brownell said. "If the tobacco tax is any precedent--and I think it is--it will happen first in the states. If politicians in other states see it happen in California, they will see it as a winning issue."

What should we do?
Vegetarians in Paradise believes the status quo, not doing anything about sweetened beverages, is unacceptable. But calorie-laden beverages are only a part of the obesity problem. We have become a nation of dietary excess demanding and consuming ever-larger portions of food and beverages. Placing a tax on sugary drinks will definitely reduce consumption, but we need to focus on a broad spectrum of food issues.

We bravely make the following suggestions:

  1. Stop subsidies on corn production. This country produces far too much cheap high fructose corn syrup that is one of the mainstays of soda production. Read the labels of soda and other sweetened beverages to notice the prevalence of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup).
  2. Subsidize the growing of fruits and vegetables. Everyone knows that eating fruits and vegetables is part of a healthy lifestyle. Why not make these foods as inexpensive as fast foods instead of having people choose junk food because it's cheaper.
  3. Begin a large public service ad campaign to tell people how many calories are in those sweet drinks and give them an idea of optimum calories each day for their age and sex.
  4. Place a significant tax on sweetened beverages like a penny an ounce. Perhaps, that might discourage sales of all sugary drinks and help to eliminate Gulp and Double Gulp portions entirely.
  5. Set up special standards for advertising high-calorie foods and beverages to children. Targeting children with fast food meals should be challenged.
  6. Find celebrity role models who can tout the advantages of a healthy diet and exercise lifestyle and discourage the consumption of empty calorie foods and drinks.
  7. Produce a Surgeon General's Report on Food and Obesity that would be a wake up call to a generation that is gorging on fast food and calorie-laden sweet beverages. At the time of The Surgeon General Report: Smoking and Health in 1964, 46%of Americans were smokers. By 1991 that number had dropped to 25.7%. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 20.6% of all adults were smoking in 2008.
  8. Encourage people to drink water. Remove drink and snack vending machines from schools and provide numerous drinking fountains in schools and public places. Install vending machines that provide fresh fruits at bargain prices.
  9. Make health insurance more expensive for smokers as well as people who are overweight and obese. Higher fees may make many people aware of their own responsibility in changing to a healthier lifestyle.
  10. Encourage the medical profession to work on prevention as well as sick care. Persuade medical schools to place strong emphasis on nutrition. Doctors should have the knowledge necessary to lead their patients to a healthier diet.
  11. Install salad bars in every school and provide health and nutrition information to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Instead of waiting until our population becomes fatter and sicker, we need to take action now. If we want a healthy population, we must provide inexpensive healthy food and encourage people to make healthy choices.


References

Americans Against Food Taxes http://www.nofoodtaxes.com

Bauer, Joy. "No Refill Please! Drinks Can Add on the Pounds." Today MSNBC http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20249161

Brownell, Kelly D. and Thomas R. Frieden. "Ounces of Prevention -- The Public Policy Case for Taxes on Sugared Beverages." The New England Journal of Medicine 360 (April 30, 2009): 1805

"Cigarette Smoking." American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/PED_10_2x_Cigarette_Smoking.asp

Delaware General Health District. "Power of Healthy Choice: Student Nutrition and Fitness." http://www.delawarehealth.org/nutrition.htm

Hooked on Juice http://www.hookedonjuice.com

New Yorkers Agains Unfair Taxes http://www.nobeveragetax.com

Spolar, Christine and Joseph Eaton, "Food Lobby Mobilizes, As Soda Tax Bubbles Up." Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/04/soda-tax-mobilizes-food-l_n_345840.html


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