Is Drinking Soda the “New” Smoking?

More than one third of American adults and 17% of children are obese, according to data from the CDC. Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest rates of obesity (almost 48%) followed by Hispanics (42.5%). One of the major causes of this epidemic? High fructose corn syrup and sugar-laden beverages.

As a new election year came and went, Americans were waking up to the dangers of drinking high calorie sugary beverages due to the fact that science has been increasingly showing a link between their consumption and chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. Government action to address the dangers of sugary drinks was on the ballot in order to combat the destruction these epidemics are having on the health of our communities.

Last week during the election some west coast cities including San Francisco, Oakland, and Boulder voted to add a 1-2 cent per ounce tax to sugary soft drinks. The thinking behind it being, if we add a tax to soda (like we have in the past with packs of cigarettes), prices will go up and those living in low-income communities (who tend to drink the most and are affected the worst) will now subsequently drink less.

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This is not the first time such an idea was voted on. In 2014, the “Berkeley vs. Big Soda” campaign won by a landslide 76%, and was later implemented in March 2015. It covered such soft drinks as Coca Cola, Sprite and Dr Pepper, sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, energy drinks like Red Bull and caffeinated drinks like Arizona iced tea and Frappuccino iced coffee. Diet drinks and sodas were not subject to the tax because they use sugar substitutes.(Wanna know more about sugar and substitutes – Check out this article I wrote: Take it from a Chemist: What are all those big names doing in my snacks and supps?)

So what was the outcome of this tax? A 21% drop in the drinking of soda and other sugary beverages in Berkeley’s low-income neighborhoods. Even more so, Berkeley residents reported a 63% increase in drinking bottled or tap water as a replacement. Berkeley’s 21% decrease in sugary beverage consumption compares to a similar campaign in Mexico, which saw a 17% decline among low-income households after the first year of its 1 peso per liter soda tax that its congress passed in 2013.

However, this is just the beginning. More than two dozen U.S. cities have attempted to pass soda taxes, and failed. This past June, Philadelphia became the second city in the nation to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. (Philadelphia’s tax, which will take effect in January 2017 will also include diet drinks.)

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Though this is a step in the right direction, many caution that this is just the first step of many. When you look at the example of cigarettes, taxes (which made a pack more than $10 in some states) had a small impact on smoking rates in general. The bigger shifts happened when the public became more aware of the dangers of cigarettes through labeling. AND, while cigarette warning labels also helped play a role in informing the public about the dangers of smoking, even the warning labels were not enough. Both of these measures combined with many mass-media campaigns targeted toward youth, contributed the most in reducing smoking, effectively reducing the popularity of cigarette smoking and making smoking less socially acceptable.

 

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