"If this industry was treated like every other industry in America, we wouldn’t have the problems that we have today,” Governor Daniel Malloy declared at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Hartford, Connecticut on Thursday. Similarly, the woman-of-honor charged "If anything else were killing 33,000 Americans a year, you can bet that we would be fully mobilized, doing everything possible to save lives.”
Their motive is unassailable, their cause righteous, their words even noble, and their strategy realistic. Unfortunately, they're wrong. In an article written ten months ago, the Los Angeles Times' Melissa Healy reported
By contributing to obesity and, through that, to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks appears to claim the lives of about 25,000 American adults yearly and is linked worldwide to the deaths of 180,000 each year, new research says.
Low- and middle-income countries are bearing the brunt of the death toll attributed to overconsumption of sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks, according to an assessment published Monday in the American Heart Assn.'s journal, Circulation. Each year, more than 3 in 4 of the world's deaths attributed to overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages occur in those poor and developing countries.
The researchers found the highest death rate due to consumption of such drinks in Mexico, but "The United States ranked second. In 2010, there were 125 deaths per million adults, or about 25,000 deaths total."
That sounds darn exceptional to me. Fortunately, there are pockets of resistance, such as in Philadelphia, where newly-elected mayor James Kenney in March announced a proposal for, the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, "a three-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks to bring in $432 million over five years to pay for: universal pre-K; community schools; and upgrades to parks and recreation centers. The tax would be collected at distributorships and would not include diet drink."
Not surprisingly, both the industry and the Teamsters have launced a campaign to defeat this eminently bold and sensible idea. More surprisingly, it has become an issue in the Democratic presidential campaign. While the frontrunner declared herself "very supportive" of the measure, her opponent stated
My disagreement is how we proposed to fund it. I think that taxig soda is a regressive way to fund it. That tax burden will likely come down on low-income and working families, many of which are struggling right now to make ends meet.... At a time of massive income and wealth inequality,it should be the people on top who see an increase in their taxes, not low-income and working people.
A U.S. Senator should- notwithstanding the video below- understand that the City of Philadelphia, with a taxing ability far less than that of the federal government, is left having to fund what he recognizes as a worthy program. One can only hope that Sanders' opposition is prompted largely by the mayor's support of Clinton's presidential bid. Otherwise, he is suffering from a failure to understand the city's limited options.
The powerful forces in Philadelphia opposing the tax contend that it would raise consumer costs and reduce jobs. However, as this Daily Kos contributor- a Sanders supporter- recognizes
Doesn't that sound familiar, Bernie?
Doesn't that sound exactly like the arguments made by opponents to raising the minimum wage, to addressing income inequality, hell, even Obamacare?
That sounds right to you?
Although a soft drink tax does directly have a greater impact on the poor than the affluent, the impact of the beverage upon health also is regressive. University of California- San Francisco health policy professor Laura Schmidt explains "I understand the idea that this is a regressive tax and I think the thing we all have to remember is that diabetes is a regressive disease- it doesn't just affect everybody evenly. It disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color." With efforts underway in other cities to tax sugary drinks, a New York Times columnist has tweeted "a tax on poison is a good thing."
A study published two years ago in JAMA Internal Medicine summarized
Randomized clinical trials and epidemiologic studies have shown that individuals who consume higher amounts of added sugar, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemias, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Researchers studied only cardiovascular disease mortality and thus did not address other devastating effects of sugar upon human health. Nor were they considering the disproportionate impact upon poor people or blacks.
It would be ironic if in the name of not taxing such harmful items, ethnic minorities would be consigned to additional costs to their health and to their bottom line. Sugary drinks do not come cheap, and deterring their use might be economically advantageious for low-income individuals in the short term, as well as inarguably and overwhelmingly advantageous economically in the long-run.
Everybody gets some things wrong, and this is, for the foreseeable future, only a municipal issue. It is, however, one which Bernie Sanders- unless he has ulterior motives- gets very, very wrong.