Taxing soda by the ounce?

stockphotopro_6488093CNV_glass_of_cola_wSugary sodas are the latest target in an ongoing battle against childhood obesity. In an online commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine published yesterday, David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of Children’s Optimal Weight for Life Program, and a group of public health specialists argue that taxing soda can reduce consumption by making it too expensive, and much like with taxes on smoking, the revenue generated can be used to finance health programs.

They conclude:

The reasons to proceed are compelling. The science base linking the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to the risk of chronic diseases is clear. Escalating health care costs and the rising burden of diseases related to poor diet create an urgent need for solutions, thus justifying government’s right to recoup costs. As with any public health intervention, the precise effect of a tax cannot be known until it is implemented and studied, but research to date suggests that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would have strong positive effects on reducing consumption.5,33 In addition, the tax has the potential to generate substantial revenue to prevent obesity and address other external costs resulting from the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as to fund other health-related programs. Much as taxes on tobacco products are routine at both state and federal levels because they generate revenue and they confer a public health benefit with respect to smoking rates, we believe that taxes on beverages that help drive the obesity epidemic should and will become routine.

This recommendation is already getting attention from U.S.News & World Report, NPR and WBUR.

Critics say the proposed “sin” tax is regressive, meaning it would disproportionally affect poor people. What do you think? Is this a good way to change an unhealthy habit while bringing more revenue into already-thin budgets? Or is it another way the government is trying to legislate people’s behavior?

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