How Seattle’s soda tax is crossing the line

On Monday, Jan. 1, Seattle’s newest tax went into effect, placing an economic burden on those who consume sugary drinks, in an effort to curb obesity rates and diabetes mellitus Type 2.
The tax targets drinks including sugared sodas, energy drinks, sugared coffee drinks, sweetened iced teas and sports drinks. According to a Komo 4 article done on the impact of the tax, it will add “an extra 1.75 cents per ounce on sweetened beverage,” making a 12 fluid ounce soda cost 21 cents more than it would now. Reportedly the new tax will bring in $15 million for the city of Seattle in just its first year.
The tax feels like an unnecessary addition to a problem which already seems to be solving itself. Per the Beverage Marketing Corporation the average American consumes close to 44.7 gallons of sugary soda per year, which translates to 5,721 ounces a year or 15.67 ounces a day. That number has actually decreased in the last 12 years from the 51.5 gallon average in 2005.
Soda consumption, free from additional taxes, is already on the decline which makes the new tax feel like bureaucratic overkill. Additionally, sugar consumption is not the only issue in the average American’s diet, according to “About three-fourths of the population has an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils,” with “more than half of the population meeting or exceeding total grain and total protein foods recommendations.”
Rather than solving the issue of healthy eating by assisting in making organic items cheaper and allowing consumers to have flexibility in their choices, Seattle has decided to tax a portion of the problem and make it harder for citizens to get what they want.
However, the city didn’t even necessarily do that right either, with high calorie items linked to the same health risks the city listed in their reasoning for the tax, such as McDonald’s dollar menu items still being available at extremely low prices. Unhealthy food options are far from being heavily impacted.
The city also plans on spending $500,000 a year for four years to the University of Washington so that they can study the effects of the tax on local businesses and children’s eating habits. Jesse Jones-Smith, a researcher from the UW School of Public Health, has stated that the study is focused on wanting “to know if this tax has an impact on lower-income populations, and if it has any impact that is similar or different on the general population.” Jones-Smith continued, “That will inform policy so we can get the most public health benefit out of it.”
A major problem with the study is that it looks at the effects of a tax spike AFTER it has been implemented.
Without testing the plan on a smaller local population to see how it will affect local communities in the long run, Seattle has decided it best to implement the change and hope for the best. Similarly, shoppers in Seattle have options of where they can buy their drinks and groceries, potentially causing massive amounts of cash to flow to other cities where there are no extra taxes on sugary beverages.
Granted, it is extremely important to emphasize a healthy lifestyle, combining good eating habits and exercise as well as educating people on how to do so.
However, it shouldn’t be the job of the government to manipulate people’s habits via negative reinforcement. Should someone choose to live their life in an unhealthy manner, consume high quantities of sugar-filled beverages and increase their risk as a result, it should be the choice of the individual, not the state.
Rather than making it harder for individuals to make decisions on what they wish to put in their body, the state should work toward making it easier for people to make the right decision and live healthily via tax cuts to local farmers and organic growers.
The tax also has two major flaws in its execution, in-store prepared coffee drinks and diet drinks. Unhealthy drinks that are just as available as the sugary beverages which are being taxed remain untouched.
According to the tax, diet sodas would be excluded, even though multiple studies including a 2014 study published in Diabetologia, a journal for the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, found that consumers of diet sodas were at risk of Type 2 diabetes at levels which were on par with those who drank regularly sugar-sweetened beverages.
In addition, coffee drinks such as Frappuccinos and high sugar density Starbucks beverages will not be taxed as long as they are served in-store rather than being bottled and distributed even though they meet the criteria for the reason of the tax, having no nutritional value and causing health risks.
What’s next? Heavily taxing alcohol so that DUI’s will decrease? Artificially increasing prices of video games and consoles to discourage what some might see as unhealthy behavior? Or a universal tax on any food item that the government deems to have no nutritional value so that they can keep you safe from yourself?