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The New York Times reports on the continuing debate over a proposed tax on sugary soft drinks, which is seen as one way to battle obesity and raise money to reform the nation’s health care system.

According to the Times, “A team of prominent doctors, scientists and policy makers says it could be a powerful weapon in efforts to reduce obesity, in the same way that cigarette taxes have helped curb smoking.

“The group, which includes the New York City health commissioner, Thomas Farley, and Joseph W. Thompson, Arkansas surgeon general, estimates that a tax of a penny an ounce on sugary beverages would raise $14.9 billion in its first year, which could be spent on health care initiatives. The tax would apply to soft drinks, energy drinks, sports beverages and many juices and iced teas — but not sugar-free diet drinks.”

The group has written a paper for the New England Journal of Medicine, concluding “that a beverage tax might not only raise revenue but have significant health effects, lowering consumption of soda and other sweet drinks enough to lead to a small weight loss and reduced health risks among many Americans. The study cited research on price elasticity for soft drinks that has shown that for every 10 percent rise in price, consumption declines 8 to 10 percent.”

As the Times writes, President Barack Obama has said that the idea is worth considering, though he has not endorsed it. He told Men’s Health that “there’s no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda. And every study that’s been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else.”

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, on the other hand, has labeled it “outrageous.”
KC's View:
See “Your Views,” below, for some comments on Kent’s statement.

They make the point that this would hardly be the first time that the government used taxation to influence consumer habits – and that sometimes it works, as in tobacco, which is a good thing.

But I remain queasy about a sugary soft drink tax – and not because I drink them, which I don't. It’s just that there’s a point at which you can’t help people who don't want to help themselves, and there’s a point at which there is simply too much intrusion into how people live. We’re getting perilously close to that point, I fear.