Soda’s tax-free status: right or oversight?

New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg isn’t sugarcoating his views on soda. Citing sugary drinks as a leading cause of obesity, Bloomberg is pushing for legislation that would ban the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts in the Big Apple.

Under Bloomberg’s proposed law, any sugary drink larger than 16 fluid ounces—smaller than many single serving soda bottles—would be banned at any establishment regulated by New York’s health department. Grocery stores, convenience stores and vending machines wouldn’t be affected.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are proposing new legislation regulating sugary drinks as well, though less drastic than their peers in New York. Currently, food products in Massachusetts are exempt from the state’s standard 6.25 percent sales tax. Governor Deval Patrick is suggesting that soda and candy no longer be exempt from that tax, and the additional money raised—estimated at $51 million each year—go towards new and existing health programs to help combat obesity. Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Children and Families, is also proposing a similar legislation.

“The proposal is in the public’s best interest,” says David Ludwig, MD, PhD, who has led the way in researching the link between sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children’s Hospital. “It will reduce exposure to unhealthy food products while raising much-needed funds for obesity prevention and other necessary public measures.”

Deval Patrick supports repealing soda's tax exempt status

According to a recent online public opinion poll and Facebook posting by Boston Children’s, Ludwig, Khan and Patrick aren’t alone in support of the proposal. Out of 114 collected responses, 73 people were strongly in favor of it and another 10 somewhat supported it. Only 23 responders were strongly against it. (Eight said they were somewhat against the idea.) The Boston Foundation and the New England Health Institute conducted a similar survey in 2011, with similar results.

If these samples are any indication, a majority of people supports the idea. But on our channels, those who oppose it were the most vocal. Out of the 19 comments we received, most were negative and focused on the financial burden, like this responder:

“If things continue to go at this pace, we will not be able to afford to feed our child healthy/unhealthy foods. Enough is enough! We are taxed to death!”

“The simple solution for a family concerned about budget is to focus financial resources on foods that will actually promote health. Sugary beverages and candy don’t do that,” Ludwig says. “There’s a vocal minority who dominate the comments (in the poll). We want the majority to be heard as well. Though not scientifically conducted, our poll suggests that there is strong support for the proposal, and those people’s voices need to be heard by legislators.”

Joshua Greenberg, Boston Children’s vice president of Government Relations, agrees.

“It really doesn’t take a ton of comments to influence a legislator in either direction,” he says. “This is ultimately a question of reaching out legislators to do something. If people really support the idea of generating more funds for public health programs in this way, they need to be more outspoken about it.”

What about you? Do you support removing soda’s tax exempt status to raise millions for obesity prevention programs? Please let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook wall.

Are you a soda drinker between the ages of 18 and 40 interested in contributing to a study on how soda affects health? Boston Children’s is conducting research on the topic and are looking for participants. Click here for more information.