Getting a lot of attention in the past week is the argument for a sugar tax on soda. Publishing A Penny-Per-Ounce On Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Would Cut Health and Cost Burdens of Diabetes in the January issue of the journal Health Affairs, a group of scientists at the University of California San Francisco estimated that a one cent tax per ounce of soda could save as many as 26,000 lives over the next decade, and prevent as many as 240,000 cases of diabetes per year. Their work is another study aimed at how using taxes can improve public health. Not everyone agrees though, and some researchers believe that proponents of the soda tax ignore the far more complicated issues underlying the obesity problem.
In the October 2011 Choices Magazine, Robbin S Johnson comes out against a soda tax in her article Caloric Sweetened Beverage Taxes: The Good Food/Bad Food Trap. Johnson gives four reasons why a soda tax is not an effective strategy for combating obesity. The first is that it fails to address the complex nature of the problem. Obesity happens overtime and for many reasons. A lack of exercise and large proportions are also contributors to obesity but a soda tax only looks at the input level of calories, not the output. The second reason Johnson gives is that a soda tax does not account for the substitution effect. People will likely switch to other calorie dense foods or will get used to paying the higher soda prices. She argues that sin taxes have historically not worked and the decrease in smoking came from warnings and advertisements; Policies focused on behavioral change rather than taxes.
A soda tax is also regressive. It will disproportionately effect the poor and give them even less money to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables. You can consume some soda without adverse effects, so Johnson argues that you can not compare it to cigarette taxes because smoking is never good for anyone. The last reason that Johnson gives against soda taxes is that "it does not lead to a better understanding of the problem and individual accountability." She argues that the funds raised from a soda tax are unlikely to go to public health campaigns and that if done, should be done with a fairer tax, one that is not so narrowly aimed at soda.
Using well founded science and broad based education on living healthier lives of balance, choice and responsibility is much more likely to accomplish real goals of treating causes rather than symptoms Johnson says. It refrains from making the beverage industry an enemy and instead encourages collaboration and real progress rather than confrontation.