California banning soda taxes for 12 years

Metallic cans top view.

California governor Jerry Brown signed a new law banning new soda taxes initiatives until 2030 and thereby stopping local initiatives planned and in progress. The American Beverage Association — representing the soda industry — has its fingerprints all over the legislation.

The strategy of using state legislation to stop local soda taxes exactly mirrors the tactics earlier used by the tobacco industry.

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, among many others, had a fierce reaction to the new law:

The bill – a last-minute, backroom deal, negotiated and written in secret by beverage-industry lobbyists and their allies—is a significant step backwards in the ongoing effort to reduce overconsumption of sugary drinks. This is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have seen in more than 30 years spent fighting for better health for kids and families.

Whether any products should be taxed at all is a larger question, and it depends on political philosophies that lie beyond the scope of our website. But if we accept taxes on addictive potential public health hazards like alcohol and tobacco, sugar-sweetened soda should probably be in the same category.

Earlier

Leaked: Coca-Cola’s Strategy to Kill Soda Taxes

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Attempts to Hide Ties to Big Soda

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5 comments

  1. Mark
    I don't think anyone should be for regressive sales taxes on anything. They only hurt the poor. They did a sales tax on cigarettes and it didn't do much to dissuade people from smoking. If a tax passed on items containing sugar, what next? A tax on meat or saturated fat containing foods? This may sound like a logical fallacy (i.e. slippery slope) but one of the key proponents in the UK who suggested a tax on sugar also thinks one on meat would be a great idea.
    Reply: #3
  2. RT
    I agree with Mark. As Dr. E has pointed out in this post, agreeing that something is unhealthy is a different issue than deciding whether it should be taxed (or banned). If we look at the history of such attempts, it’s not a pretty picture: The puritanical anti-alcohol fanaticism in the US leading to Prohibition in the 1920s, for example. More recently, in the late 1980s CSPI pushed very hard to use the legal system to coerce US fast food chains into using trans fats instead of coconut oil or lard. Absolutely convinced of the nutritional and moral superiority of their position, they were successful; then later it was found that trans fats were in fact associated with health risks.

    (CSPI jumped on the anti-trans fat bandwagon and has never, to my knowledge, admitted their mistake. The last time I looked at the CSPI historical timeline on their web site, their anti-trans fat crusade was not mentioned; I am reminded of Orwell’s “memory hole” in the novel 1984. Indeed, CSPI strikes me as being a latter-day Temperance movement with a totalitarian bent.)

    As Nina Teicholz has pointed out, Americans have largely followed the nutrition guidelines the USDA put in place since 1970, and yet obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other health issues have increased, apparently as a result of following these guidelines.

    Another factor is that, unfortunately, many countries seem to slavishly follow whatever government policies the US initiates: the Americans decided that fat was bad, so other counties’ nutrition guidelines followed suit, and we see the results. There are a lot of great things that have come out of American society, but the food pyramid isn’t one of them. Hooray for Sweden for leading the way in advocating LCHF as a viable way of eating.

    If as a matter of principle one asserts that unhealthy items should be taxed with an aim to discourage consumption, such a policy is based on the underlying assumption that in every single case, the state will always be right about what should or should not be taxed or banned. If this sort of initiative had taken root, say, in the late 1980s, it would have been butter and lard (and foods made with them) being taxed. In other words, from the perspective of those of us who are absolutely convinced that natural fats are completely healthy, we would have been penalized for trying to improve and maintain out health. (And as Mark mentions, it may well happen in the near future.) We can’t afford to assume that these authorities are always going to make their decisions based upon the best available scientific and heuristic evidence, particularly that they are going to make any distinction between fat and sugar in arriving at their decisions. If they were, the low-fat, high-carb nutrition guidelines would have been thrown into the circular file by governments long ago.

    I agree that the soda industry almost certainly affected Brown’s decision, and that the situation is ethically suspect (to say the very least). But I see web sites like this one - and not more regulations and taxes - as the answer. Now that I’ve read this article I am less inclined than ever to drink sugar-laden soda, and I somehow doubt that I am the only one who feels that way. From what I understand, global soda sales are down anyway, and this whole thing may well be part of the sugar industry’s death throes. (In the meantime, Coca Cola Japan, for example, has been getting into product lines such as mineral water and non-sweetened barley tea, and there’s also an increased popularity in plain soda water, so that could be Plan B for them in terms of corporate survival.)

    The best solution is to have an open and unimpeded debate among experts and laypersons, and for people to make their own choices based upon their best assessment of the evidence and reasoning presented. Otherwise we as a society risk the unintentional consequence of having something that is actually healthy being legally demonized and banned by “The Annointed,” to borrow a term from Tom Naughton. Education and open debate, not state regulation, is they key. I think the information on this web site has done more to help improve people’s health than any sugar tax could possibly accomplish.

    This is not an ideal solution, as there is still the question of situations in which people cannot make completely independent choices: school lunch programs, prison populations, the military, etc. Not to mention parents who may agonize over what they should and shouldn’t feed their kids. But I’m convinced that society-wide state intervention in the form of taxes and bans ultimately creates more problems than it solves. Consider what would likely have happened if the USDA had had more power to legally enforce compliance with the food pyramid guidelines in the early 1990s. If we agree to such practices, we are abdicating our right to make our own nutritional choices to the state.

  3. RT
    It may be a logical fallacy at times, but I think history has proven to us that sometimes the slippery slope is very real.
  4. RT
    Edit to comment above: CSPI’s timeline does not mention their pro-(not anti-) trans fat crusade which they carried out in the 1980s. Their subsequent anti-trans fat stance essentially erases the existence of their previous (and ill-conceived) position, hence the Orwellian “memory hole” analogy.
  5. 1 comment removed
  6. Paul
    I’d be happy if we just stopped subsidizing sugar and other unhealthy foods. Instead let’s spend those same subsidy dollars on real food.

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