Friday, July 20, 2012


Soda industry mobilizes to protect profits, to heck with public health

by Larry Geller

Readers not from New York may not have heard that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would like to limit the size of sodas that may be sold in the city. He’s dead serious, but it does make for some good comedy. For example:

(Daily Show, July 17, 2012)

Jokes aside, the mobilization against size limits and soda taxes is a great example of corporate America at its best (that is, at its worst).

If corporations are people, some of them are pretty despicable specimens. They don’t care about us flesh-and-blood type people, only about themselves. And their profits. They live, if they live at all, to take advantage of us. Whether we live or die, are healthy or are sick, is nothing to them.

Some of them make sugary beverages that have no place in a healthy diet. The country has an obesity epidemic linked to a diabetes epidemic. Diabetes is a devastating disease. The manufacturers and distributors of these products don’t care.

Bottoms up! Supersize that! Free refills!

Like the tobacco industry, the health of their customers is of concern to them only in that they need us to live long enough to buy lots of their products.

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg is famously pushing to limit the size of sodas allowed to be sold in New York City. No sooner did Bloomberg make his move than a fake grassroots coalition was put in place by the soda industry to whip up public opposition.

In June, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a controversial cap on sugary drink portion sizes. If the proposal is passed, sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces will no longer be able to be sold in the city's restaurants, stadiums, food carts and movie theatres.

Last week, a so-called "grassroots" coalition, New Yorkers for Beverage Choices, emerged to oppose the mayor's measure. But an investigation by the Republic Report found that the coalition is entirely the creation of the American Beverage Association and its high-powered issue advocacy firm Goddard Gunster (formerly Goddard Claussen):

[Huffington Post, The Masterminds Behind the Phony Anti-Soda Tax Coalitions, 7/3/2012]

Hawaii is one of the states listed where Goddard Gunster has been active. The article links to the website No Hawaii Beverage Tax, a domain name similar to others that the firm has reportedly created.

Of course, New Yorkers could simply buy two 16-ounce servings instead of a forbidden 32-ounce size. The ban would get the message across, though, and might well be effective.

So would a soda tax.

Americans don’t like being told what they can eat or drink, of course. I suppose getting diabetes is some sort of Constitutional right, but there is a clear public interest in minimizing avoidable disease and death as well as the public expense that obesity and diabetes represent.

Disappeared News suggested a soda tax for Hawaii back in 2009, possibly the first here to do so, or at least among the earliest.

Using an on-line calculator in 2010 demonstrated that a 1-cent-per-ounce tax could bring in as much as the estimated 2012 hotel tax. Of course, one could adjust the soda tax parameters downward to any value.

Articles on the soda tax idea are here.

The media, of course, back the soda companies. Our daily paper is named, after all, the Star-Advertiser.  Between industry propaganda and media objections, it is difficult to gain support for a sugary beverage tax.

I’d like to reproduce one of my articles below, the one complaining about the S-A editorial. I think it’s a good summary of the advantages of a soda tax, and I suggest again that Hawaii might adopt one next legislative session.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Star-Advertiser mixes ideology into soda tax debate leaving bad taste

by Larry Geller

The Star-Advertiser needed to fill the editorial page space today that is normally occupied by Richard Borreca blasting the governor for something, and they chose a guest editorial headlined Put state on spending diet rather than impose soda tax (Star-Advertiser, 12/28/2011).

While it makes some arguments about the role of sweetened drinks that I’m not qualified to debate, it is basically the old right wing no-tax-increases, destroy-government mantra.

Where exactly is Hawaii supposed to cut its government? Shall we have 1/2 of the one ag inspector checking our farms? Should the Department of Health inspect restaurants every four years instead of every two?

The best and most effective job creator is government, so a very good argument can be made to reduce the damaging cuts and put people to work in this bad economy. To do that, it’s necessary to raise revenues. Also, right-wing critics seem never to argue against damaging social-service cuts, it’s always more cuts for them, cut, cut, cut, without empathy or common sense burdening their thought processes.

Disappeared News first suggested a soda tax in 2009. That article linked to an on-line calculator that is state-specific and allows policymakers to play around with various tax schemes. The full-bore tax-the-heck-out-of-every-sugary-molecule approach could bring in as much as $169,160,651. That’s extreme. The state’s proposal is moderate in comparison.

More articles on the soda tax idea are here.

The writer might have consulted the draft state budget for 2012, which indicates how the money for an augmented alcohol tax and new soda tax would be used. Here’s a table from the budget document for the Department of Human Services:


Programs FY2012 FY2013
Healthy Start $6,500,000 $7,000,000
Fetal Alcohol Prevention/Treatment 170,000 1,500,000
Baby SAFE (PATH) 400,000 1,000,000
Obesity Prevention 750,000 3,500,000
Breastfeeding Promotion 850,000 1,500,000
Development Screening 300,000 500,000
EC Health Coordination 175,000 200,000
EC Mental Health 205,000 2,000,000
EC Health Passport 650,000 650,000
Health Equity Best Practice Models   1,500,000
Prenatal Risk Surveillance Integration   650,000
Total $10,000,000 $20,000,000

There’s a secondary effect to sin taxes that takes time to work. The constantly increasing tobacco tax, along with package messages and advertising restrictions of course, sent a clear message that smoking is bad and that society wishes to discourage it. Soda should be removed from schools (as it increasingly is), and even adding a warning label would not be totally outrageous. Increasing a tax on the stuff would help with the message. Like smoking, drinking empty calories is bad for you.

Future Diabetics of AmericaThere is an argument that a soda tax is regressive. Diabetes is regressive. The 1% is certainly in better physical shape than the fast-food guzzling part of the 99%. Who has time for two jobs and visiting the gym as well?

Yes, a debate at the Legislature is very appropriate and there are differing points of view. 

Pity that the newspaper needs to muddle the subject with a right-wing message.


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