How a Tax on ‘Big Soda’ Could Benefit San Antonio

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A 16 ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 52 grams of sugar.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A 16 ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 52 grams of sugar.

Katherine McLane, spokeswoman for the Texas Beverage Association, does not use the words “soda” or “tax” in her recent critique of the Salud America!’s campaign against sugary drinks. Yet she makes a very compelling case for why San Antonio should consider taxing soda, as have Philadelphia, Chicago, Boulder, Colo., and San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and Albany, Calif.

Her protest that “cutting out a single food, beverage, or ingredient” is not productive in fighting the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity insults both the intelligence of voters in those fine cities as well as a mountain of scientific evidence. After losing 5-of-5 local soda tax referendums in the recent election cycle, big soda is clearly desperate. Not coincidentally, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent resigned last week.

Huge increases in diabetes and obesity rates in the United States over that last 50 years are closely associated with an increasing consumption of sugar. And half of all added sugar in the U.S. diet comes from soda and other sugary drinks.

“Cutting out” soda, therefore, makes total sense and has already proven to be highly effective.

During the first year of its tax in Berkeley, soda consumption dropped dramatically, especially in lower income neighborhoods. At the same time, $1.5 million in tax revenue was collected to be reinvested in those same neighborhoods. San Antonio’s decline in obesity from 2010 to 2012 in parallel with declining soda drinking also demonstrates the strong connection between the two.

Through decreased consumption, soda taxes directly impact obesity and diabetes and generate millions to invest in pre-school (Philadelphia), neighborhood safety (Chicago), and public health (California’s Bay Area and Boulder). The $3.5 million the American Beverage Association and Coca-Cola have “donated” to the City of San Antonio to squash criticism of sugary drinks is a small amount compared to the $15-20 million per year that a one penny per ounce Bexar County soda tax would generate.

City and County attorneys and elected officials should now be researching how best to implement a soda tax here, for the health of our community and for badly needed dollars to reinvigorate our neighborhoods.

Case in point: The Witte Museum’s H-E-B Body Adventure has identified the areas of Bexar County where children eat the fewest vegetables and drink the most soda. Not surprisingly, they are the same areas. Think of what could be accomplished if just a portion of the $15-20 million generated annually was directed at fighting child obesity in those neighborhoods.

3 thoughts on “How a Tax on ‘Big Soda’ Could Benefit San Antonio

  1. If you want to read more about added sugar and health impact yourself:

    Singh GM, Micha R, Khatibzadeh S, Lim S, Ezzati M, Mozaffarian D; Global Burden of Diseases Nutrition and Chronic Diseases Expert Group (NutriCoDE). Estimated Global, Regional, and National Disease Burdens Related to Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in 2010. Circulation. 2015 Aug 25;132(8):639-66.

    Schmidt LA. New unsweetened truths about sugar. JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):525-6.

    Avena NM, Potenza MN, Gold MS. Why are we consuming so much sugar despite knowing too much can harm us? JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Jan;175(1):145-6.

    Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Apr;174(4):516-24.

    Ruxton CH, Gardner EJ, McNulty HM. Is sugar consumption detrimental to health? A review of the evidence 1995-2006. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Jan;50(1):1-19.

    Vyas A, Rubenstein L, Robinson J, Seguin RA, Vitolins MZ, Kazlauskaite R, Shikany JM, Johnson KC, Snetselaar L, Wallace R. Diet drink consumption and the risk of cardiovascular events: a report from the Women’s Health Initiative. J Gen Intern Med. 2015 Apr;30(4):462-8.

    Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, Howard BV, Lefevre M, Lustig RH, Sacks F, Steffen LM, Wylie-Rosett J; American Heart Association Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism and the Council on Epidemiology and Prevention. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009 Sep 15;120(11):1011-20.

    Mitka M. AHA: Added Sugar Not So Sweet. JAMA. 2009 Oct 28;302(16):1741-2.

  2. Soda taxes may raise revenue, but they do not improve public health. To this point, the editorial board of USA Today came out against soda taxes, stating “[s]oda taxes are heavy on intrusion and light on impact…Most important, soda taxes haven’t been shown to work.” Additionally, scientific research from Cornell University found that diets and health campaigns targeting specific foods to prevent obesity aren’t as effective as evaluating the entire diet. As stated by researcher David Just, “If we want real change we need to look at the overall diet and physical activity.”

    Moreover, singling out soda is no solution and won’t make a measurable difference when it comes to combating obesity or obesity-related conditions. As CDC data confirms, soda contributes just 4% of calories in the American diet, and all sugar-sweetened beverages combined attribute just 6%. Meanwhile, fats, oils and starches contribute a whopping 84%. In other words, targeting any one source of calories with a tax won’t net the promised returns for health. What will? Education and collaboration about overall dietary balance can drive behavior change.

    Beverage companies are committed to being part of real solutions with initiatives like Balance Calories, which aims to reduce beverage calories in the American diet by 20 percent nationally by 2025 by offering more lower- and no-calorie choices and smaller sizes and then finding ways to get people to try them. We also support clear and understandable nutrition facts about foods and beverages and have voluntarily placed clear calorie labels on the front of the bottles and cans we produce.

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