Over the last three years, numerous cities and states as well as the U.S. Congress have examined taxation for sweetened beverages where the proceeds would support local nutrition, physical activities, and health-related prevention programs. However, the motivation behind the “soda taxes” was mostly centered on raising revenue during this recession in addition to health concerns like obesity. In a trailblazing event, the New York City Board of Health approved a ban beginning March 12, 2013, as explained in Health Panel Approves Restriction on Sale of Large Sugary Drinks. This ban affects establishments receiving health department inspection grades such as concession stands at movie theaters or stadiums in addition to fast-food restaurants with self-service drink fountains where standard stock cups are limited to no larger than 16 ounces. However, convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven with its king-size Big Gulp drinks, vending machines, and newsstands along with fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, alcoholic beverages, and non-caloric sodas were not affected by the ban. “This is the single biggest step any city, I think, has ever taken to curb obesity,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s certainly not the last step that lots of cities are going to take, and we believe that it will help save lives.” The American Beverage Association along with several NYC’s businesses have filed legal action in the State Supreme Court in Manhattan to overturn the restrictions as proposed by Mayor Bloomberg and approved by the Board of Health in Soda Industry Sues to Stop a Sales Ban on Big Drinks (10/12/2012). In this article, Dr. Deepthiman K. Gowda, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and a member of the Board of Health, said he recognized that the public had concerns about the plan. But, he said, he had seen firsthand the deadly effect of obesity on patients he has treated in the city. “The same way that we’ve become acclimatized and normalized to sodas that are 32 ounces, we’ve started to become acclimatized to the prevalence of obesity in our society,” Dr. Gowda said. “The reality is, we are in a crisis, and I think we have to act on this.”
A special audio report from California Healthline, a daily news service of California Healthcare Foundation, described local soda tax measures on the November 2012 ballot in Richmond, a city in the San Francisco Bay area and El Monte, a city near Los Angeles, in California Cities Gear Up to Vote on Ballot Initiatives to Tax Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (9/12/2012). Using the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity’s Soft Drink Taxes: A Policy Brief study, which explains research data and the pros and cons stated: “Sugar-sweetened beverages with little or no nutrition are staples of today’s American diet. These beverages are inexpensive, in abundant supply, and appeal to our taste for sugar. They are heavily marketed, especially to children, often using celebrities, sports stars, and cartoon characters. More than for any category of foods, rigorous scientific studies have shown that consumption of soft drinks is associated with poor diet, increasing rates of obesity, and risk for diabetes. These links are strong for children.” Also, a recent study from the California Center for Public Advocacy found 38% of children in the state are obese; however, in both Richmond and El Monte the marker increases to 50% prompting these cities’ tax measures. A statement from Jeff Ritterman, Richmond City Council and cardiologist, expressed “What the public health literature is telling us is that this obesity epidemic is caused in large part from excess sugar and the major culprit is sugar-sweetened beverages, and we're also told that the very best way to reverse this is a sugar-sweetened beverage tax."
Although soda taxation measures have failed repeatedly in previous tax initiatives throughout the country, the success of New York’s ban and taxation derive at limiting sugar-sweetened beverages consumption are winning strategies that will have long term health benefits for the American people. Susanne L Woodford, Freelance Writer