When I was a kid, we all looked forward to Sunday evening. On Sundays, mom made popcorn on the stove and drizzled it with real, melted butter. We each grabbed a bowl of the buttery goodness and a 6.5 ounce Coca-Cola in a glass bottle. Then we settled in to watch Jim Fowler wrestle an alligator with a blow-by-blow by Marlin Perkins.
I don’t remember a lot of coke (as real Texans refer to all soft drinks) consumption during the rest of the week. So that Sunday snack was a real treat.
That was in the early 70’s. Sugary soft drinks made up four percent of caloric intake in the U.S. by that time. By 2001 it made up nine percent. Compelling research tells us that this shift is bad for our collective health.
This is why the city of Berkeley, CA passed a “sin tax” on sugary drinks last week. While most of us were counting red and blue seats, the citizens of Berkeley, secure in their blueness, had moved on to fighting Big Soda.
This is a tricky topic. Sin taxes are simply excise taxes placed on products deemed to be in some way unseemly. They are part of business in this country, where taxes on cigarettes and alcohol are higher than just about anything. The thinking is that these products are costly to society, so we tax them to discourage their use. If the tax doesn’t curb use, we still enjoy the tax revenue.
At first glance, it makes sense. The CDC estimates that health costs are over $10 for every pack of cigarettes sold. Cigarette taxes as high as $6.60 per pack help offset those costs.
And so it is with sodas and other sugary beverages. The correlation between their consumption and our collective obesity is real. And with the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid, we are funding the associated health costs.
But not so fast. If Joe Soda dies from obesity-related disease, we won’t have to pay him Social Security. Plus, we won’t have to pay for the health costs of whatever other problem will eventually kill him. We all have to die of something, you know.
And even if the numbers worked, it’s opening a door for more regulation of personal habits than I think most of us would welcome. I mean, I just spent $50 on Halloween candy for goodness sake. Can you imagine? A sin tax on candy would bring that holiday to a screeching halt.
So I’m not a big fan of such taxes. But, I’m also not a big fan of overconsumption of these drinks. Half the people in the U.S. consume sugary drinks on any given day. Soda is the single largest source of calories in teens’ diets. Soda drinkers have more health problems like Type 2 Diabetes, heart attacks and gout than those who don’t consume sugary drinks. And because of their connection to obesity, soft drinks contribute to strokes, gall bladder and liver disease, and malignancies such as colon, breast and endometrial cancers.
We don’t need a tax penalty to rein this in. We need a little self-control. Here are a few tips if soft drinks are your downfall:
- Drink water first. If you feel thirsty, don’t indulge in soda unless you’ve had a glass of water first.
- Don’t keep soda in your house. If you don’t have it, you can’t drink it.
- Don’t order soft drinks at restaurants. This will save you money, too. My family of five saves over a thousand bucks a year this way.
- Find a substitute for what you like about soft drinks. If it’s caffeine, try tea with lemon or a cup of coffee. Even if you sweeten these, I doubt you’ll add the eight or ten teaspoonsof sugar you’d consume from a can of soda. If it’s the fizz you crave, try a sparkling water.
Whether society imposes a sin tax on soda or not, people who consume too many soft drinks pay a hefty penalty in lost health. Just like Jim Fowler wrestling a wild boar, these beverages should only be used as an occasional treat.