Conversation about soda has heated up in the last several weeks. Among the voices has been that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proposed banning the sale of sodas bigger than 16 ounces at theaters, arenas and other spots starting next spring.
The public policy organization Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group dedicated to free-market healthcare reform, says the mayor’s heart is in the right place. But the idea is wrong-headed, just like Prohibition was, the group says.
“It reeks of nanny-statism and diverts attention away from the issue. Plainly speaking, it trivializes the problem. Prohibition doesn't work. How many times do we have to learn this lesson?” the group said in a statement.
CMPI’s president, Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner of the federal Food and Drug Administration, said by phone that taxes are a better idea – if the money funds public education programs.
People need to take responsibility for their health, and the government needs to mount efforts to help them – “not just carrots but sticks,” Pitts said.
“It’s not about punishing the people who make the products. It’s about people who have choices not using those choices wisely,” he said.
Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the more controversial proposals in the public debate. Opinions are sharply divided about whether taxes work.
The AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health recommended Wednesday’s vote, saying that current research models predict that a tax of a penny an ounce on sweetened drinks would lead to a 5 percent reduction in the prevalence of overweight and obesity and reduce medical costs by $17 billion over 10 years.
The report says such taxes alone are unlikely to have a significant effect on obesity and related conditions. But it says that a penny per ounce excise tax would be imposed on producers and wholesalers. Such a tax is estimated to reduce sugary drink consumption 10 percent to 25 percent, which one analysis cited in the report says could reduce premature death by 26,000 instances over 10 years, the report says.
Federal dietary guidelines advise people to drink water instead of sugary drinks and to limit added sugars to 100 calories or less for women, 150 for men. Twelve ounces of most sugary drinks contain 130 to 150 calories of added sugars, the report says.
Supporters of taxes on sweetened drinks cite the role of tobacco and alcohol taxes in reducing rates of smoking and alcohol consumption; opponents question whether sugary drinks should be singled out among contributors to obesity and whether taxes would work.
Efforts to discourage consumption of sugary drinks may result in increased consumption of diet beverages, which needs further study, the AMA council says.