Partner Blog Post

The Soda Tax Battle Continues

Today, news about DC’s battle to pass the Healthy Schools Revenue Act made the front page of the New York Times Business section. David Leonhardt sheds light on the issue of a soda by looking at the tobacco industry’s expensive and deceptive messages to evade taxes on tobacco products. Just as the tobacco lobbyists advocated for the industry’s revenue behind the message of “individual’s rights,” so the soda lobby looks out for its profits by spinning tales about defending “the average working American’s” grocery budget.

The American Beverage Association (ABA) has spent almost $6 million to run advertisements in newspapers like The Washington Post and on the radio to demonize this penny-per-ounce levy on over-sugared beverages. Reality check: This is what it would take to fund the Healthy Schools Act in the first place. The ABA is doing an effective but morally reprehensible job of convincing seniors and low-income residents that this legislation will have a negative impact on them and their communities. Yet these are the very communities that this revenue would go to serve. In addition to programs to increase exercise and make school food more nutritious for DC students, the Healthy Food Access Initiative will expand healthy choice options to wards 7 and 8, where grocery stores and access to healthy foods are scarce. The Office of Aging’s Nutritional Programs will also receive much-needed funding.

A penny-per-ounce tax is indeed substantial, it’s true. This penny-per-ounce levy is a choice tax, which will not impact anyone’s budget unless they choose to purchase significant amounts of bad-for-you-beverages instead of juice, milk and other alternatives. The alternative, a sales tax, is far less appealing and has the potential to impact family budgets much more than an excise tax as proposed in the Healthy Schools Revenue Act. With a sales tax, the price difference will not be indicated by the sticker price. People won’t be aware that they’re spending more, and there will be no incentive to shift consumption. With this proposed levy, people will realize that the more unhealthy choices cost more and be able to make a more informed decision about what they choose to drink.