A new tax structure to curb U.S. soft drink consumption?

By Tom Nordlie • Published: October 21st, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You might not think soda pop should be taxed at high rates, the way alcohol and tobacco are.

But a report in a recent issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine argues that’s exactly what should happen.

The author, an economist and tobacco policy expert with the American Cancer Society, supports his argument with data on alcohol taxation in South Africa.

In 1998, that country adopted a sliding-scale approach that based taxes on the total amount of alcohol in a container, rather than the volume of liquid.

Taxes on liquor and wine almost doubled; taxes on beer rose by one-third.

By one measure, South Africa’s collective alcohol consumption dropped by about 10 percent between 1999 and 2013.

The author argues that a similar approach should be used for U.S. sales of sweetened soft drinks, taxing them based on the amount of sugar in a container.

Assuming that the extra tax burden is passed along to consumers, this approach would probably cut demand.

However, we’re not so sure the new tax approach would reduce obesity rates.

If soft drinks become prohibitively expensive, consumers may simply turn to cakes, pies, cookies, candies and ice cream products.

The author makes one persuasive point — legislators hunting for new ways to curb obesity will probably consider new taxes on sweetened soft drinks eventually.

So, one day we may all get to see the effects of this taxing approach played out on the national stage.

Surely, there would be opponents, including industries closely tied to sugar and soft-drink consumption, and people opposed to increased taxes and government regulation.

No matter how it turns out, a sensible diet and regular exercise remain the time-tested keys to shedding pounds.

It takes work, but the rewards are sweet.