Soda Tax: The Revenge

The newish head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Thomas Freiden—the man who helped bring trans fat and smoking bans to NYC as the city's health commissioner—wants to have another go at taxing soda.

As usual, the goal is both to raise money (because Americans are helpless in the thrall of demon sugar, and therefore relatively price insensitive) and to discourage consumption (because that extra three cents on my 12 ounce bottle of Coke is going to make me think twice about my Fatty McFat lifestyle).

As with all soda-specific tax proposals, there is a weird underlying confusion between correlation and causation. Fat people drink more soda than skinny people. They also consume more calories overall and exercise less. But policymakers persist in acting as if calories in soda have magical properties that make us obese, unlike the identical calories in all the other food we eat. A food calorie is 4.2 kilojoules of energy, whether it comes from a bottle of orange juice, or an ice cold Coke. 

Let's hope we're about to see a national replay of what happened in Fredian's former home state, when New York Gov. David Paterson proposed a 15 percent tax on full-sugar beverages and then claimed he was never really going to tax the beverage of choice for the city's poor and minorities to pay for a middle class health care entitlement—he was just "raising awareness." 

More on the corn syrup jihad here.

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  • ||

    People pay twice as much for a Coke at a fast food restaurant than they would if they bought it at a convenience store. And a itty bitty tax is supposed to change people's habits?

  • ||

    But policymakers persist in acting as if calories in soda have magical properties that make us obese, unlike the identical calories in all the other food we eat.

    No, they don't. They're just idiots who persist in thinking that the conventional food pyramid is optimal for human health, as well as would-be tyrants who want to control every last molecule we put into our own bodies. If they'd read Gary Taubes' GOOD CALORIES, BAD CALORIES, most of them would sagely nod their heads, pretend they understood it, and go back to the same old "eat less, exercise more/calories in, calories out" bullshit that Taubes has thoroughly demolished.

    (Quit eating frankenfoods, keep your carbs low, and eat plenty of good fats, especially saturated animal fat. Watch yourself lose weight and experience better health. It's that easy.)

  • +||

    that extra three cents on my 12 ounce bottle of Coke

    A guy on The Cable TV yesterday said it would be an extra ten cents. It was on CNN so it must be true. Do minority soda-drinker-types watch CNN?

  • kilroy||

    "eat less, exercise more/calories in, calories out"

    Otherwise known as the Conservation of Energy.

  • ||

    Funny... he doesn't LOOK newish...


    p.s. dj, the use of the term "frankenfoods" may as well be a cattle brand across the forehead which reads "Blinkered."

  • ||

    Why the FUCK is a CDC bureaucrat proposing tax policy? Did he somehow get appointed to the House Ways and Means committee, despite never having run for congress?

    -jcr

  • ||

    The article (I admit I only skimmed it) doesn't seem to mention if the tax would apply only to sugar/HFCS containing pop (that's right, I called it pop, not soda) or if it will be on all pop (diet/sugar free stuff as well).

    Not that I advocate this, but if they really want to reduce the amount of sugar consumed by people why not just tax the fucking sugar directly (and get rid of the corn subsidies that help make HFCS cheaper). Then food/drink manufacturers could either reduce the amount of sugar they will use or raise prices to reflect the higher cost.

  • ||

    OK, damaged justice, I think there is something to the argument that not all calories are necessarily the same, that your body's metabolism can react differently to different foods.

    But, "frankenfoods"? Does my metabolism really care that the wheat in my muffin was Roundup-Ready?

  • Mike||

    Freiden's other problem with this proposal is he equates the revenue possibilities with the tobacco model -- a 10% prie hike would decrease consumption about 7%-8%.

    That might work with cigarettes, where most smokers are addicted, but most cola consumers, even the fat ones, are not clinically dependent on a can of soda.

  • EJM||

    Is KMW in the secret employ of The Coca-Cola Company? I never see any images of, say, Pepsi, RC, or Double Cola in her posts.

  • ||

    But, "frankenfoods"? Does my metabolism really care that the wheat in my muffin was Roundup-Ready?

    Maybe I read it differently, but my when I read "frankenfoods", my thoughts went to already pre-packeed, pre-prepared, heat and serve foods that are produced by food scientists rather than chefs/cooks. I didn't think be meant GMO.

    These foods tend to contain tons of additives, preservatives, fillers, gums, sweeteners and artificial colors to make them feel, look and taste more appealing than they normally would be without it. (as well as adding shelf stability and longevity)

    It's like this time I watched a show about "fat-free" foods. They went to a huge factory and talked to the food scientist about how they make fat-free (or low-fat) foods, and the scientist explained that since you are removing the fat, you need to add something to replace the fat and do it's job. Usually some kinds of gum or chemical imulsifiers.

    The conclusion was that yes it may be lower in fat, but that doesn't make it better for you since the shit they add (gums, chemicals, more carbs) actually can make the food less healthy.

    Needsless to say, my attitude is bring on the full fat foods, Ill just eat a little less of it if it's a concern.

  • ||

    "Quit eating frankenfoods, keep your carbs low, and eat plenty of good fats, especially saturated animal fat. Watch yourself lose weight and experience better health. It's that easy."

    Quit eating foods that have more preservatives and fake colors than actual ingredients. I would say something like that instead of "quit eating frankenfoods". I'm an agnostic with respect to GM foods. But I'm pretty sure that I'd rather eat fresh kettle potato chips than anything warning me of anal leakage.

  • ||

    OK, CT, I can go along with that, but I've only ever seen "frankenfoods" used as a pejorative for GM foods.

  • ||

    EJM, perhaps KMW is just a southerner..

    "What would you like to drink?"
    "A coke."
    "What kind?"
    "Dr. Pepper."

  • ||

    But I'm pretty sure that I'd rather eat fresh kettle potato chips than anything warning me of anal leakage.

    Olestra/Olean had to be the worst thing ever to hit the potato chip aisle. Everyone I knew that ate them had GI discomfort (gas and the runs) after eating chips cooked in it.

    Do they even still make chips with that shit? I don't see it any more in my local supermarket.

  • Anvilwyrm||

    Why is the tax always aimed at soda, and never on 400 calorie "hot candybar in a cup" coffee drinks?

  • Tomcat1066||

    You know what? No matter how stupid the people around me seem, reason is always happy to show me people in high government jobs that are even more stupid.

    Thanks Reason! ;)

  • ||

    Don't blame me. I voted for Count Fudgula.

  • T||

    Why is the tax always aimed at soda, and never on 400 calorie "hot candybar in a cup" coffee drinks?

    Because American business runs on caffeine, usually delivered via the Bunn-o-matic in the breakroom. Start taxing our coffee and we might get irritable.

  • Eric S||

    As an addendum to Anvilwyrm's point, what about plain old juices? I think orange juice has as many calories as Coke.

  • ||

    As an addendum to Anvilwyrm's point, what about plain old juices?

    Because this isn't about reducing caloric intake, really, and the revenue raised is only a bonus.

    This is about control, exerted by Our Betters, for Our Own Good.

  • Invisible Finger||

    but most cola consumers, even the fat ones, are not clinically dependent on a can of soda.

    The body does get mildly dependent on caffeine.

  • ||

    Not that I advocate this, but if they really want to reduce the amount of sugar consumed by people why not just tax the fucking sugar directly

    Aren't there price controls on sugar now? I thought that's what got food makers to use HFCS to begin with.

  • T||

    Aren't there price controls on sugar now? I thought that's what got food makers to use HFCS to begin with.

    We have price supports on sugar, and enormous ag subsidies that distort the market for corn. HFCS is an outgrowth of the excess corn on the market and the higher price of sugar. Plus, liquids are easier to handle in some applications than granular solids.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    "Funny... he doesn't LOOK newish..."

    Props immediately go to Geena for the Mel Brooks reference!

  • Rhywun||

    the shit they add (gums, chemicals, more carbs) actually can make the food less healthy



    I know that's the common perception, but... where's the proof?

  • ||

    Needsless to say, my attitude is bring on the full fat foods, Ill just eat a little less of it if it's a concern.

    I look at it this way: two fried eggs, 3-4 slices of bacon for breakfast? About 300 calories, and very filling. BUT OH NOES ANIMAL FAT

    Stack of pancakes with syrup? 600 calories or more. But no animal fats!

    The whole food pyramid is very screwy, but after 30 years of it being trumpeted as the only way to eat, people have trouble rethinking it.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Yeah, a lot of the "frankenfood" stuff is tremendous bullshit, but the thing I always wonder is more along the lines of something CT said upthread:

    We subsidize the shit out of corn. We impose tariffs on international sugar producers. This is why the US uses HFCS more than regular sugar.

    This doesn't help the calories of a Coke much I assume, but HFCS is harder for your metabolism to process and definitely contributes to fat storage in ways that natural sugar wouldn't...

    So, again, we have the classic situation: Government creates problem, government "solves" problem by imposing burdens on everyone. When a real solution would just be to remove the original burdens placed on sugar & the special bonus given to corn growers.

    Problem solved.

  • ||

    "I know that's the common perception, but... where's the proof?"

    I'm not a scientist, so I don't know about the proof, but I'm going to err on the side of no anal leakage. I'd also suggest that "safe to eat" is not equivalent to "great for your health".

  • ||

    HFCS is harder for your metabolism to process and definitely contributes to fat storage in ways that natural sugar wouldn't...

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't multiple studies shown that this isn't the case? I know people just really, really want the HFCS thing to be true, because it would be so satisfying. It would show unintended consequences from government tariffs, subsidization malfeasance, and explain the "obesity epidemic".

    But from what I've seen, it just isn't to blame. And all studies done back me up on that.

  • Typical Hit\'n\'Runner||

    Don't tax my wealth! That is Communistical!

    Don't tax my income! That's Socialistical!

    If you absoluterly need to tax then tax consumption, except of course for products that I personally consume like my bullets and my healthcare and my HFCS soda.

  • ||

    because that extra three cents on my 12 ounce bottle of Coke

    You can buy a 12 oz bottle individually? I've seen those ridiculous little stubby things in 12-packs before, but never alone.

  • ||

    "Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't multiple studies shown that this isn't the case?"

    There is some valid controversy, and nobody can claim that "all studies done" back up any particular point. Usually, the evil universities and biased research hospitals come to a negative conclusion while the upstanding industry trade groups fund studies to rebut these other studies. Its the latter that back you up.

  • ||

    But policymakers persist in acting as if calories in soda have magical properties that make us obese, unlike the identical calories in all the other food we eat. A food calorie is 4.2 kilojoules of energy, whether it comes from a bottle of orange juice, or an ice cold Coke.

    This is just stupid. Food doesn't literally contain calories, it contains certain molecules that your body can extract calories from. It costs far less energy to extract calories from sugar than it does for other carbohydrates -- that's why we're wired to like sugary foods. And that's why calories from sugar are so much more powerful in causing obesity.

    Add to that the fact that soda contains no nutrients whatsoever, and you see why it's such an unhealthy thing to consume. Of course, there are plenty of things the wealthy consume that are similarly unhealthy (think wine and cocktails) but you're never going to see taxes slapped on that because (a) there are relatively few weathy folks among us to generate revenue and (b) the people making the laws either are them or are dependent on them.

  • ||

    I look at it this way: two fried eggs, 3-4 slices of bacon for breakfast? About 300 calories, and very filling. BUT OH NOES ANIMAL FAT

    Stack of pancakes with syrup? 600 calories or more. But no animal fats!



    I know what you're saying, but usually where there is animal fat there is cholesterol (and this is definitely the case in your first example). So avoiding animal fat is a decent rule of thumb.

    Also note that syrup, the source of most of the calories in your second example, is at the tip of the food pyramid in the "use sparingly" category.

  • ||

    All calories are not created equal (and I don't mean the sweetener)
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327171.200-the-calorie-delusion-why-food-labels-are-wrong.html

  • ||

    Also, did you know that it takes 100 times as much energy to produce a pound of tofu as it does to produce a pound of roach meat? Yet I don't see many environmentalists putting their mouth where their mouth is, so to speak.

  • ||

    I know what you're saying, but usually where there is animal fat there is cholesterol (and this is definitely the case in your first example). So avoiding animal fat is a decent rule of thumb

    Cholesterol isn't the evil that people make it out to be. I'll take the eggs and bacon over the pancakes and syrup any day.

    Excessive amounts of sugar and simple carbs are worse for you than cholesterol and animal fats.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Epi... I don't know, I've heard a bit about both either way, but that doesn't change the fact that the reason we use HFCS is due to previous government interventions with tariffs and subsidies.

    Ultimately, it's the same sort of situation with Transfats - which were originally lauded by the very same "pro-health" organizations that are now trying to get it banned everywhere.

    If the government & nannying assholes would just leave people alone, things would be much much better.

    Also - health "benefits" over HFCS or not, real sugar in soda tastes immensely better.

    P.S. Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature. :P

  • ||

    me. Of course, there are plenty of things the wealthy consume that are similarly unhealthy (think wine and cocktails) but you're never going to see taxes slapped on that because

    1. Alcohol in moderate amounts has shown to have certain health benefits, at the least there is a correlation between moderate alcohol consumption (a glass of wine a day) and lower incidence of certain cancers.

    2. Are you really asserting that alcohol isn't taxed? They tax the shit out of booze as well. And in chicago they want to raise the booze tax to help shore up the budget.

  • kilroy||

    calorie: the amount of heat required at a pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius that is equal to about 4.19 joules

    Yes, every calorie is exactly the same by definition.

    Learn to use the language to express the ideas you'd like to communicate rather than trying to blur the meaning of words to suit your purpose.

    Oh, and (almost) all food contains calories. Denying that is like saying that a bucket of water contains no hydrogen.

  • ||

    I know what you're saying, but usually where there is animal fat there is cholesterol (and this is definitely the case in your first example). So avoiding animal fat is a decent rule of thumb

    Only if you are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol.

    Also - health "benefits" over HFCS or not, real sugar in soda tastes immensely better.

    I've heard this quite a bit, but not being a soda drinker (and if I do have soda, it'll be diet), I've never determined this.

  • JB||

    It's time to start taxing healthy foods since healthy people live longer and use more tax dollars.

  • ||

    Let's hope we're about to see a national replay of what happened in Fredian's former home state, when New York Gov. David Paterson proposed a 15 percent tax on full-sugar beverages and then claimed he was never really going to tax the beverage of choice for the city's poor and minorities to pay for a middle class health care entitlement-he was just "raising awareness."

    My guess is a replay of what's happened in Hawaii, where they put a tax on the bottles (to save the environment, natch) and then raided the secure-lockbox-can't-be-raided special fund to finance, oh, all sorts of crap not related to the environment.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    If you're not a soda drinker than you may not be interested in this test, but I encourage you - at some point in your life - to sample American Coca-Cola in a glass bottle, and Mexican Coca-Cola in a glass bottle.

    You will understand what I'm saying.

  • ||

    If you're not a soda drinker than you may not be interested in this test, but I encourage you - at some point in your life - to sample American Coca-Cola in a glass bottle, and Mexican Coca-Cola in a glass bottle.

    I second this.

    Mexican coke tastes much better. There was a local convenience store that sold Mexican coke, and they couldn't keep up with demand.

    In many hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago, the local stores and restaurants sell both american and mexican coke, and the mexican coke outsells the american by a large margin

  • The Gobbler||

    "Olestra/Olean had to be the worst thing ever to hit the potato chip aisle"

    Olestra/Olean had to be the worst thing ever to hit my underware.

    FIFY

  • The Gobbler||

    "Of course, there are plenty of things the wealthy consume that are similarly unhealthy (think wine and cocktails) but you're never going to see taxes slapped on that "

    Wine is healthy.

    Wine is heavily taxed.

    Wine is also consumed by bums.

    Classist bitch.

  • ||

    kilroy,

    If we're going to be pedantic about "all energy is created equal" and such, how come they don't count the binding energy stored in the nuclei of all the atoms in a serving of food in the calorie total?

    The answer: because your body can't extract the nuclear binding energy, so as far as your body is concerned it's not there. And likewise, calories stored in complex carbohydrates that your body has to spend energy extracting are going to net you far less energy than those that your body can use immediately.

    As far as your body is concerned, not all energy is the same.

  • hmm||

    Why the FUCK is a CDC bureaucrat proposing tax policy? Did he somehow get appointed to the House Ways and Means committee, despite never having run for congress?



    The important question. I thought the same thing.

    The article mentions it not being political, but the response seems like a cop out.
    Freiden said he was not endorsing the tax as a member of the administration but was "just presenting the science," according to Ambinder. He also said policies that would reduce the cost of healthy foods would effectively bring down obesity rates.

    It's interesting how the campaign spent a lot of time and focus on the influence of lobbyists on the legislative process. Yet it seems we have a lot of people not being elected and often appointed by the executive branch heavily influencing the legislative process. I don't know which is worse, big business in bed with the federal government, or the non elected federal government in bed with federal government.

    My alcohol isn't taxed.(as alcohol)

  • ||

    Fuck it!

    I'm coming out in favor of a tax on beverages with added sweeteners. Whether it's honey, sucrose or HFCS doesn't matter. I rarely drink the shit and am now convinced that a 500% tax on sweetened beverages will lower consumption and raise awareness and revenue.

    I'm not joking. I want the government to start micromanaging everybody's lives, from what we consume to what recreational activities we are permitted to engage in. You fucking nanny staters think it's such a grand idea, I'm saying why stop at half measures? You win. Let's make it illegal to sell meat without trimming the fat off of it. Tax ice cream at exorbitant levels as well. While we're at it, let's outlaw downhill skiing, mountain climbing, automobile racing and football.

    A brave new world awaits us. Just do it.

  • ||

    "What has made the lowfat dogma especially impervious to critique...is the overclass identification of lowfat with virtue, and fat with the underclass's long-suspected tendency to self-indulgence."
    - Weston A Price

  • ||

    Fuck it!

    Sounds like we lost a comrade, bitches.

  • Rich||

    J sub D, I was thinking along similar same lines:
    Just tax *calories* at a flat rate and be done with it. Sheesh.

  • Rich||

    "Similar same" indeed. Need another Dr. Pepper ...

  • kilroy||

    If we're going to be pedantic about "all energy is created equal" and such, how come they don't count the binding energy stored in the nuclei of all the atoms in a serving of food in the calorie total?

    Answer: Because no one has ever seen a Coke go nuclear.

    The human body is not a fission reactor. The energy you are talking about here (and a bit more) and is passed through minus the caloric energy the body used. The shit I took this morning would power my home for quite a while at E=MC^2 levels.

    Saying that food doesn't contain chemically extractable calories that is does doesn't make sense. We're all aware of the "celery uses more energy to eat than it provides" examples. The fact that it takes more energy to break down certain compounds than others doesn't change the mathematics. If you eat 2000 calories and expend 2500 every day you will loose weight. You may loose it faster if the 2000 calories are composed of substance A versus substance B due to only netting 1900 effective calories from A. That doesn't change the raw calorie count.

    Genetics effect how well/easily an individual metabolism can process different compounds. You can't really expect product labelling to reflect the effective calorie value for any one individual.

  • ||

    Why the FUCK is a CDC bureaucrat proposing tax policy? Did he somehow get appointed to the House Ways and Means committee, despite never having run for congress?

    Because he is one of the Right People, his portfolio is unlimited.

  • ||

    Fuck it!

    Fuck it! Yes! That's your answer. That's your answer for everything! Tattoo it on your forehead! Your revolution is over, Mr. sub D. Condolences. The bums lost. My advice is to do what your parents did; get a job, sir. The bums will always lose! Do you hear me, J sub D?

  • ChrisO||

    The government has no more business regulating what I eat/drink than it does regulating whatever recreational chemical I ingest. Taxation as policy is a tool of repression.

  • The Man||

    If taxing fat peoples' food makes them thin will taxing ugly chicks make-up make them hot? (After they get thin of course.)

  • engineer||

    The food pyramid puts grains as the most important food group for a reason. Consider the source.

  • Ska||

    Nice application of the BL, ClubMedSux.

  • ||

    The human body is not a fission reactor.

    Yes, I acknowledged this in my post. Thank you for agreeing with me that not all energy in food is equally useful.

    If you eat 2000 calories and expend 2500 every day you will loose weight. You may loose it faster if the 2000 calories are composed of substance A versus substance B due to only netting 1900 effective calories from A. That doesn't change the raw calorie count.

    Which is why the raw calorie count can be misleading when you're comparing calories from sugar vs. calories from other substances, a point KMW apparently thinks absurd. You're coming along nicely to my side.

    Genetics effect how well/easily an individual metabolism can process different compounds. You can't really expect product labelling to reflect the effective calorie value for any one individual.

    That may be true for two different types of complex carbs, for instance, but this is not true for sugars vs. comp carbs. All people, except perhaps those with unusual digestive disorders, spend far less energy extracting energy from sugars than complex carbs containing the same number of calories. And the difference is far more significant than the 5% in your example. Why do you think we (and most animals) are wired to prefer sweet food to other food?

  • K.T.||

    Deutschland, Deutschland über alles

  • hmm||

    All people, except perhaps those with unusual digestive disorders, spend far less energy extracting energy from sugars than complex carbs containing the same number of calories.

    Not disputing this statement. There are more variables that effect this than you mentioned. For instance athletes digest food more efficiently than non athletes. Someone who normal intakes a lower count of calories (especially beyond certain low points) will digest and store calories differently. I just wanted to point out that there are a gazillion variables and it isn't cut and dry.

  • ||

    "because that extra three cents on my 12 ounce bottle of Coke is going to make me think twice about my Fatty McFat lifestyle."

    You mean it's not?

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