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Health Experts Advocate Sugary Beverage Tax

April 9, 2009

Health experts are hoping that people will lose their sweet tooth with the institution of a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, Reuters reported.

The tax idea was designed to combat obesity by detouring consumption as well as generate billions of dollars that would directly go to state and local governments to promote health programs.

Taxing cigarettes has been beneficial in reducing smoking.  One review proposed that for every 10 percent jump in price, consumption dropped by 7.8 percent.  Experts believe the same could be true in assisting adults and children with making healthier drink choices.  Generally, current soda prices and other sweetened beverages are much cheaper than healthier drinks, the experts indicated in the New England Journal of Medicine. 

By implementing a tax in the amount of one penny per fluid ounce on sugary beverages, it would be possible to “reduce consumption of sugared beverages by more than 10 percent,” wrote Kelly Brownell of Yale University in Connecticut and New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden.

“It is difficult to imagine producing behavior change of this magnitude through education alone, even if government devoted massive resources to the task.”

Recent studies indicate that 10 to 15 percent of all calories in children and adolescent diets are obtained from beverages.

The American Beverage Association released a survey revealing 70 percent of Americans are against a national tax on non-diet soft drinks, which supports the sentiments of the soft drink industry regarding the issue. 

The group argues a tax would inevitably result in job loss in an industry that employs 220,000 people. 

Several states, including New York, recommended the sugar tax but the idea was unfavorable among majority and was thrown out. 

Brownell and Frieden advocate the revenue produced from the tax could prove very beneficial, generating $1.2 billion in New York state alone. 

Further, it could help compensate part of the costs obesity has impressed on society, they said. 

“The contribution of unhealthful diets to healthcare costs is already high and is increasing — an estimated $79 billion is spent annually for overweight and obesity alone — and approximately half of these costs are paid by Medicare and Medicaid, at taxpayers’ expense,” they wrote.

“Sugar-sweetened beverages may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic.”

“For each extra can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the likelihood of a child’s becoming obese increases by 60 percent,” they added. 

This effort to make an unhealthful habit unattractive by taxing on the contributing product was practiced again on Wednesday.  A tax increase on tobacco by $1 to $3.46 per pack was introduced in Rhode Island, making it the highest state cigarette tax in the U.S.  The federal cigarette tax increased from 39 cents a pack to $1.01, on April 1, with the purpose of diverting desire for smoking and regaining some of the expense of treating smoking-related disease. 

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