Soda Makers Begin Ad Campaign Opposing Soft Drink Tax

NEW YORK -- The American Beverage Association began a $2 million ad campaign to oppose a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, depicting it as a tax on "simple pleasures." The group joined forces with the National Restaurant Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association to launch Americans Against Food Taxes, a coalition of 110 state and local groups, according to a report by USA Today.

As President Barack Obama and members of Congress hold town hall-style meetings on health care, the sugar-tax debate is brewing in the capital, the newspaper reported.

"There's a good argument that can be made" for taxing the causes of chronic, costly illnesses, said Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey who has a diabetic son.

Proponents, citing how higher tobacco taxes reduced smoking, are pushing a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to fight obesity and fund a health care overhaul.

"This is one option," said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding his view does not represent the Obama administration. He pointed out obesity is a growing problem, and taxpayers foot half the cost through Medicare and Medicaid. He said soft drinks are the single largest contributor.

"If it costs more, people will drink it less," Frieden said, noting a penny-an-ounce tax could reduce consumption by more than 10 percent and raise $100 billion over 10 years.

House and Senate committees looked at the tax earlier this year but dropped it from their menu as opposition mounted. Most states tax soft drinks, often as part of broader taxes on food or vending machine sales, according to the USA Today report.

"People view it as an overreach of government when the tax code is used to tell them what to eat and drink," Kevin Keane of the beverage association, told the newspaper. He argued the tax hurts low- and middle-income people most. "It makes no sense to single out one product," Keane said, noting a recent dip in soda sales.

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