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Senate Considers Federal Tax On Soda

The Senate Finance Committee today is hearing proposals on how to pay for President Obama's proposed universal health care plan, which is expected to cost more than $1 trillion. Among the proposals, as Consumer Affairs reports: A three-cent tax on sodas as well as other sugary drinks, including energy and sports drinks like Gatorade. Diet sodas would be exempt.

"While many factors promote weight gain, soft drinks are the only food or beverage that has been shown to increase the risk of overweight and obesity, which, in turn, increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and many other health problems," Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is pushing the idea, said in his testimony. "Soft drinks are nutritionally worthless…[and] are directly related to weight gain, partly because beverages are more conducive to weight gain than solid foods."

According to Jacobson, "Beverage companies market more than 14 billion gallons of calorie-laden soft drinks annually. That is equivalent to about 506 12-oz. servings per year, or 1.4 servings per day, for every man, woman, and child."

(Getty Images/AFP/Earl S. Cryer)
He argued that each penny of tax on a 12 ounce drink would raise $1.5 billion annually and lower consumption roughly one percent, improving overall health. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a three-cent tax would generate $24 billion over the next four years.

Such a tax might well be considered a "sin tax" similar to the taxes levied on cigarettes, which are extremely high compared to most other consumer products. Jacobson also wants the taxes on alcohol raised -- he argues that doing so will "compensate society for the costs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism and to marginally reduce problem drinking." The argument echoes the idea of cigarette taxes helping pay for health care costs associated with smoking.

In his testimony, Jacobson also called for a ban on artificial trans fat and a reduction in sodium levels in food.

(AP Photo/Tim Roske, File)
Any soda tax a proposal is unlikely to pass easily, as New York Governor David Paterson well knows. Paterson's proposed 18-percent tax on soft drinks died amid pressure from the industry and resistance among New Yorkers who didn't want to pay more for soda.

It would also, it should be noted, only pay for a tiny portion of the health care overhaul.

Susan Neely of the American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and others, told the Wall Street Journal that the tax would hit poor Americans hardest and would not lower consumption.

"Taxes are not going to teach our children how to have a healthy lifestyle," she said. Neely said the industry backs programs to lower consumption of sugary drinks in schools.

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