Coke and Cigarettes

The current economic crunch has folks looking for $ in interesting places. Several recent reports indicate the lawmakers may be turning to soda pop to help cover escalating health care costs.   In Mark Bittman’s article Soda: A Sin We Sip Instead of Smoke? He carefully covers the current bids for legislation as well as the soda manufacturer’s response.

This generation of children will not have as long of a life expectancy due to being raised on poor quality, industrialized food according to a 2008 CDC report.  Not only is obesity on the rise but 1 in 3 children born in 2000 will become diabetic.

Part of the blame for these daunting figures rests in the cans of soda pop.  Americans drink 50 gallons per person each year.  Dr. Walter Willett, Dr. Robert Lustig and other health and nutrition experts teach us that liquid calories don’t turn on satiety signals.  Sugary liquid calories leave us wanting more and since the body has little metabolic use for sugary substances (particularly fructose) those 50 gallons rapidly turn into stored fat.
Michelle Obama responds by heading up a new campaign against obesity.   Last week, the Obama administration announced a plan to ban candy and sweetened beverages from schools.  Many are advocating for more strenuous action calling for a tax on soda.  The money collected from charging tax on every can of soda (Gov. Patterson of NY at one point was  recommending a penny per ounce) would raise enough money to put a dent in the cost of new health care overhaul.  Soda manufacturer lobbyists note that the tax would hit our poorest citizens hardest.  True enough.  Healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food.  How do we change this?

joe_camelThe same strategy was applied to the tobacco industry, another unhealthful product that was aggressively marketed to children and teenagers, Americans were shamed by the cigarette tax and segregation of smokers and now smoke at half the rate they once did.  The Mad Men era is definitely over.  Actors on the set smoke clove cigarettes.
Some states already have a small excise tax on soda.  I have always optimistically hoped that parent education would turn things around for our childrens health.  The pace of that learning curve may be too slow.  What are your thoughts?  Will taxing junk food help reverse the obesity trend?  Would making cheap food more expensive bring down the cost of healthful food?  Do we make drinking soda uncool the way we ripped off Joe Camel’s shades?

8 thoughts on “Coke and Cigarettes

  1. We can pin childhood obesity mainly on family lifestyle choices. Isolating soda, school lunches, removal of recess all play a part, for sure, but if the family condones drinking and eating unhealthful foods, then those are the principles the children are ‘absorbing’ if you will.

    The government imposed a 5 cent fee on every can and bottle of soda a while back to encourage recycling. Well, most states haven’t outfitted themselves with the machines to collect the bottles and cans. So where do the bottles and cans wind up? Mainly on my lawn (people toss them from their cars, for goodness sake).

    So I’m not sure if a tax is going to impede the habit. If people want soda, they’re going to buy it … tax or not.

    This country needs education, education, education, and not from the government, but from people like you, like Jamie, like the hundreds of others who promote the benefits of clean eating. Like the Feingold Association who’s been reaching out to families to remove artificial ingredients from their children’s diets. (

    I run a facebook page called, Sip Appeal! A Sensory Street Hydration Campaign, to inform people about the importance of drinking plain, filtered water, and post drinking reminders several times a day. I’d love more people to join, so they can see how easy it is to shift from soda to water. The health risks of continued soda consumption is too great.

    It’ll be a slow process, but I have faith that we’ll reverse this problem.

  2. I’m not sure a soda tax would curb consumption. I think the people who drink it with wreckless abandon would continue to do so. Even though I don’t think it would curb consumption, I would be for a tax that would go toward paying for health care. I’d be in favor of an across the board tax on all junk food to go toward health care. Since people who consume large quantities of junk food tend to have higher health care costs, I feel it would be only fair that they contribute to the increased costs. It would also help close the gap between the low cost of junk food and the slightly higher cost of healthy foods (though I’m finding whole foods to be much more cost effective then I previously thought).

  3. I’m all for taxing soda and sweets. People who consume these items will keep buying of course, but perhaps in less quantities. It’s even possible that serving sizes at fast food restaurants and convenience stores will return back to the normal size in order to be cost effective for the consumer….one can hope, at least. True, lower income families are probably the largest consumers of these items…but, that’s the problem, they’re the largest consumers. I agree we all need more nutrition education. Maybe we can start with the welfare program. Teach folks how to spend the money given to them on foods that are healthy and how to use them efficiently in order to keep their families healthy whilst still sticking to their budget. After all whole foods can be cost effiecient and we can help support local farmers at the same time.

  4. Soda will still be the cheapest, most readily available thirst-quenching drink in the convenience store (often cheaper than bottled water), and sugar (and the sweet taste of diet drinks) will still have its addictive lure. We can’t expect instant results, but every bit helps. I agree that such a tax should help pay for health care. And wouldn’t it be something to have the schools start being part of the solution instead of exacerbating the problem? I’m glad our national leaders have begun putting out the message that soda and other unhealthy food-like substances do not belong in our schools, and that what we eat, as a society, has public health and health care costs, so it’s not just an individual decision — caring about our communities and our society is not a threat to individual liberty but a way of caring for each other. If, over time, drinking soda becomes not-a-cool-thing-to-do in the same way smoking has, because it’s not cool to hurt oneself, then that’s a good thing.

  5. Taxing soda and and sweets sounds alright, however, it feels like it would be far more effective to go to the source and remove the farm subsidies that are on corn. Without such subsidies, high fructose corn syrup would not be an affordable ingredient for the companies who make such products or the consumers who purchase them. And, while we’re at it, let’s give some of those subsidy monies to farmers who farm fresh, organic, fruits and vegetables!

  6. I would just like to add that while I think the food stamp program is a huge help to many lower income families, what I typically see in their carts is soda, and tons of junk food. Not all, of course, I know that there are a lot of people that do eat more healthful. Even with a tax added it wont change this since no tax is paid on food stamp purchases (since the government is paying for the so called food). I think that issue needs to be addressed at the same time as this proposed tax.

  7. This from Marion Nestle:
    If you are wondering why the idea of soda taxes causes so much controversy, try this: research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine estimates that a $1.00 price increase on soda and pizza would reduce daily calorie consumption by nearly 200 per day and would help people lose weight.

    Or, as USA Today puts it, an 18% increase in the price of soda would be associated with a weight loss of 5 pounds per year.

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