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A sugar tax on the companies, not the consumers

By Sabrina Chow

Section: Opinions

April 13, 2018

Obesity rates for children and adults are on the rise across not only the United States but also most Westernized countries in the world. A heavy fat and sugar diet is to blame. As more artificial sugars and substitutes are created in labs and find their way into the market, serious re-evaluation of the food we are consuming is needed to stop the obesity pandemic.

Sugar and soda taxes have been imposed in countries around the world, but the long-term effects of these have yet to be discovered. The United Kingdom just passed a sugar tax on soft drinks, which taxes production of the drinks rather than consumption. This means that it affects the companies making the unhealthy beverages rather than the consumers accustomed to buying them. With this tax, any beverage that contains more than 8 grams of sugar per 100 mL of drink will face a tax of 24 pence (34 cents) per liter. There are some exceptions, like pure fruit juices and drinks with high milk content, but soda companies such as Coca Cola will take the largest hit.

While this tax is a positive step towards necessary change, it still is not enough. By taxing products that just use sugar, companies may begin to create diet drinks with artificial sugars in order to appeal to the soda-drinking communities. Even though these artificial sugar additives have been approved by the FDA as safe for consumption, they are not completely safe.

According to a study done at Harvard Medical School with the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, people who consumed diet drinks daily had a 36-percent greater risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent greater risk for type two diabetes. Even though these drinks boast zero-sugar, they aren’t necessarily a “healthy alternative.” That being said, taxing companies that produce sugary products, even if it might have some unhealthy consequences, will help consumers. Consumers will notice when prices start to rise on their favorite beverages, and might start experimenting with healthier drinks.

The U.S. government takes a different approach to the soda tax. American soda taxes are more like a sales tax, charging consumers extra to disincentivize soda purchases. A study done in low-income communities in Berkeley, San Francisco and Oakland, CA, looked at if soda taxes would actually decrease soda drinking. While the soda consumption in Berkeley dropped, the consumption in the other two cities increased, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the soda tax.

Other major cities in the U.S. have tried and failed to impose these soda and sugar taxes. In Chicago this past year, the soda tax lasted for a whole two months before being repealed. The tax also failed in Santa Fe. It’s clear that sugar taxes don’t actually stop consumers from choosing unhealthy foods. Instead, they just drain the wallets of consumers who are accustomed to them.

The United States’ fight against sugar consumption has a flawed approach. The government focuses too much on taxing the consumers. Why tax the people that buy the products, rather than tax the people making the products?

The British model will be more successful than the American model because their taxes will directly affect the companies producing the products. A few extra cents in taxes from the sugar will not make a significant difference for the consumers, but if the prices of the products increase because of the taxes, consumers will start to notice.

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