Soda Tax to Fund Health Care?

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Soda Tax to Fund Health Care?

WASHINGTON -- One of the big questions of the health care reform debate is where the approximately $1 trillion needed to overhaul the system will come from. Some people are finding the answer lies in carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) and sugary drinks -- by adding a tax to them.

Public health advocates argue drinking soda is directly linked to obesity, which is partly responsible for skyrocketing health care costs. Harold Goldstein, a physician and executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, told NPR soda should be taxed so the beverage industry pays its fair share for the obesity epidemic.

For example, a 33.8-fluid-ounce bottle of Coke -- which Goldstein called "obese" -- contains 28 teaspoons of sugar, according to the report. A study Goldstein's organization conducted with UCLA surveyed more than 40,000 Californians about their soda-drinking habits, and found "regardless of income or ethnicity, adults who drink one or more soda a day are 27 percent more likely to be overweight or obese," Goldstein said in the NPR report.

On average, Americans drink 50 gallons of soda a year, he added.

And the director of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Kelly Brownell, told NPR the tax would have considerable benefits.

"Using a tax, much as has happened with tobacco, to try to change consumption patterns in a way that would benefit overall public health and provide a very much-needed revenue for programs, seems like a home run," Brownell said in the report. Brownell and several other public health experts argued in a recent New England Journal of Medicine article a soda tax could generate a lot of money, with a penny-an-ounce federal soda tax potentially generating $150 billion in the next 10 years.

Similarly, a tax of seven cents per can would generate approximately $100 billion over 10 years while modestly reducing soda consumption, wrote Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a letter to the editor published by The Washington Post. "Indeed, a soda tax is one of the only measures being discussed that would both raise revenue and promote health," he said.

Other uses for a soda tax include making healthier options more affordable, Brownell said in the NPR report.

"The list of ways you could use revenue from a soda tax is a mile long, but the best use of it would be to make healthy foods more available," Brownell told NPR. "There could be price supports for fruits and vegetables at supermarkets. You could use the money to support farmers markets for inner-city neighborhoods."
But American Beverage Association spokesman Kevin Keane claims tobacco taxes and soda taxes cannot be compared.

"You can have a soft drink and be a healthy person," Keane said in the report. "You can't say the same about smoking."

Keane doesn't believe taxing soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages such as sports drinks, energy drinks and juices will eliminate obesity. Instead, he argued, people should take more responsibility for their health. In addition, the tax could hurt a lot of people.

"We have some economic data that shows there'd be $22 billion lost in economic output," Keane said in the report, "whether it's jobs, whether it's people buying less product, etc. But there's no doubt, and we concede that it would affect sales."

For instance, there's Satnam Cheema, a clerk at Mace Market grocery store in a suburb of Davis, Calif., who opposes a soda tax. "The more the tax ... then everyone [goes] out of business," he said in the report.

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