Why I support a tax on sugary drinks: Yes on Boulder’s Ballot Issue 2H

 

CITY OF BOULDER BALLOT ISSUE 2H: SUGAR SWEETENED BEVERAGE PRODUCT DISTRIBUTION TAX

 

 

YES/FOR

SHALL CITY OF BOULDER TAXES BE INCREASED $3.8MILLION (FIRST FULL FISCAL YEAR INCREASE) ANNUALLY BY IMPOSING AN EXCISE TAX OF 2 CENTS PER OUNCE ONTHE FIRST DISTRIBUTOR IN ANY CHAIN OF DISTRIBUTION OF DRINKS WITH ADDED SUGAR, AND SWEETENERS USED TO PRODUCE SUCH DRINKS [Truncated]

 

According to my Twitter feed, the sugary drink tax is the most controversial issue on the local ballot. I am voting YES on the measure.

My support bases on several key pieces of evidence:

  1. The Berkeley sugary drink tax has reduced sugary drink consumption and increased water consumption compared to neighboring cities. Boulder’s tax is modeled after this tax. Berkeley sees a big drop in soda consumption after penny-per-ounce ‘soda tax’
  2. The tax is not a grocery tax, nor does it directly affect prices at grocery stores. The tax is levied on distributors and not individual businesses. An economic analysis of the tax in Berkeley showed that “47% of the penny-per-ounce tax had been passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a previous study by some of the same researchers. For sodas in particular, 69% of the tax was incorporated into the price.” This means that the distributor or producer absorbed 31% of the price, reducing their profits. Boulder’s tax is higher, putting more pressure on distributors to absorb more of the price increase while also ensuring that the tax raises the price for consumers (which is required to change behavior).
  3. The taxes collected will benefit poorer populations and minorities. As the ballot language states, the revenue collected will go to “improve health equity, such as access to safe and clean drinking water, healthy foods, nutrition and food education, physical activity, other health programs especially designed for residents with low income and those most affected by chronic disease linked to sugary drink consumption.” In my opinion this counteracts any problems with a regressive nature of the tax. It’s also important to understand that the sugar industry targets low-income and minority populations specifically: Washington Post: “When soda companies target minorities, is it exploitation?”
  4. Sugary drinks directly relate to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and premature death. “Sugary Drinks Take a Deadly Toll
  5. The sugar industry has systematically tried to influence public policy to protect sugar. “An article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar.” NYTimes – How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat, The Shady History of Big Sugar
  6. The World Health Organization directly supports a sugary drink tax, as does the American Heart Association. W.H.O. Urges Tax on Sugary Drinks to Fight Obesity

 

Here’s why I think arguments in opposition are not very compelling:

“Boulder is mostly white and has a 12% obesity rate”

Boulder may seem an unnecessary place for such a tax, but here’s why I think it’s still worthy to support. Boulder does have minority and poorer populations, even if they are a smaller portion of the city than most consider. These populations are important to protect for many reasons, particularly because they’re vulnerable and give Boulder much of its racial and ethnic diversity. Revenues raised would benefit them most.

“Other items with sugar [i.e. yogurt and frappuccino] aren’t being targeted like sugary drinks”

While added sugar in any form can contribute to negative health outcomes, sugary drinks are very easily and quickly consumable and habit-forming. Added sugar in grocery foods is a problem not covered in this tax, but I do not believe that is a reason not to support the tax. Drinks made in a coffeeshop or restaurant are not covered due to their inherently high cost as a full-service item. However, a frappuccino sold in a store would be required to pay the tax.

“The tax is regressive and disproportionately targets poorer populations and makes food scarcity worse”

As I made clear above, the sugar industry already targets poorer populations with marketing. The sugary drink tax does not contribute to food scarcity because sugary drinks should not be considered food, and healthier alternatives will be more attractive given the additional tax on sugary drinks.

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