A Soda Tax?

Are you tired of the government telling you what you can eat or drink? What car you need to be driving or how much water you’re allowed to use? 

Well, the California Democrats are at it again with their new idea: tax you for drinking soda, since it’s not really the best choice for you. 

Public health is one of my passions – it’s why I serve on the Assembly Health Committee. In my personal life as a wife and mother, I work hard my family healthy. A big part of that is making sure we eat properly, stay active and limit our sugar intake. We take personal responsibility seriously. 

Unfortunately, as our nation’s steadily rising obesity rate has shown, that isn’t always easy. For years, Americans’ waistlines have been expanding, and we’re seeing the consequences in higher rates of diabetes and heart disease. 

This is a complex issue, but the Democrats’ proposal to tackle it with higher taxes and a ban on “Big Gulps” is a response that appears to be intended more to grab headlines than actually solve the problem.

There are many choices we make to be healthy – but living a sedentary lifestyle, eating junk food, and yes, drinking too much soda all contribute to obesity. Limiting personal choice by regulating away our rights is not the answer; education and more choice options are. 

Recently, Democrats introduced five bills they hope will discourage Californians from consuming soda. In addition to a statewide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, other bills would prevent manufacturers from offering promotional discounts for soda, ban retailers from displaying sugary drinks near checkout aisles and require warning labels on sodas and vending machines. The “Big Gulp” ban would stop the sale of unsealed sugar-sweetened beverages in containers over 16 ounces. 

But if we go down this route, where does it stop? Should fast-food outlets be banned from asking ‘would you like to supersize that?’ Will candy bars need warnings like we have on cigarettes? Are we going to ban donuts, or put a fee on those wonderful cinnamon rolls at the county fair? If that doesn’t work, should we require Californians to exercise daily and eat a certain amount of vegetables?                                                                                                                                                                

People simply don’t support these taxes and restrictions. Aren’t we paying enough already? These taxes come just eight months after Governor Brown signed legislation that bans new local grocery taxes through 2031. While these new taxes might pass legal muster since they will be imposed by the state, they certainly violate the spirit of that legislation. It’s long been accepted that we should not be taxing any kind of groceries, and this is little more than a regressive penalty on people with the least ability to pay. You have to ask yourself, when does the Democrats’ desire to impose new taxes ever end? 

Perhaps worst of all, these new taxes and regulations probably won’t even work. For the last 18 years, soda consumption has fallen steadily. If cutting back on soda was the magic bullet for improving health that they claim, you would assume that obesity would decline along with it. Clearly that hasn’t been the case. Sugary drinks make up just 6% of the average American’s calorie intake each day, so even if we cut soda consumption in half, it would barely impact people’s behavior (and waistlines). 

For even more evidence that Democrats are spinning their wheels with this plan, I would note that taxes actually have a minimal impact on soda consumption. In 2017, a University of North Carolina researcher conducted a study on the effectiveness of soda taxes and found a surprising result – an average reduction of six calories per day. Those savings would be wiped out by consuming a total of three Tic Tac candies. 

This attack on sweetened drinks will do little more than set a precedent for more intrusive taxes and regulations on other types of food and drink. 

While some politicians wish we could tax and regulate ourselves into a new era of public health, the truth is more complex. Resolving the obesity epidemic is a worthy goal, and a solution will require an honest discussion and buy-in from health advocates, retailers, policymakers and yes, even drink manufacturers.  

We should encourage people to make healthy choices, including eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise and limiting our sugar intake. But new mandates and taxes to impose state-approved choices can’t be the answer. Not in a free society. Californians deserve to be treated like adults.