Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A recent blog posting by Partnership's Alyson Hazen Kristenson on propsals to tax soft drinks elicited an online comment by the American Beverage Association (the original post and the ABA's comment can be read online here). Needless to say, they were against a soda tax, and repeated the industry's recent assertions that taxes don't educate consumers.

Their comment drew the following response from Partrnership President Robert J. Gould:

Dear American Beverage Association,

We appreciate having an association whose members' sales total $110 billion a year drop by our humble blog. But the points you offered were a bit hard to swallow. The next time you want to engage in a discussion with a group that is dedicated to evidence-based prevention, you should consider bringing along some facts.

Here are a few facts:

1. To your claims that taxes don’t help educate people, we’d respond that they have often been a very important tool in helping to steer people to education programs about healthy lifestyles. For example, in the year after the state of New York nearly doubled its cigarette tax in 2007, calls to the state's smoker's quitline increased from 9,900 calls a month to 23,100 calls a month. Nationally, after Congress increased federal tobacco taxes effective April 1, the American Lung Association reported that its quitline had received 553,000 calls by the end of May - nearly equal to the 591,000 calls it received in all of 2008.

2. The environment in which people make decisions can greatly influence the outcome of those decisions. When unhealthy choices provided within an environment are cheaper or cost the same as healthy alternatives, there is less incentive to try healthy alternatives. However, by increasing the price of the unhealthy choice, you change the environment in a way that not only discourages unhealthy behavior but also provides an incentive to try healthier alternatives.

3. A review article in the Sept. 16 edition of the The New England Journal of Medicine stated: ”The science base linking the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to the risk of chronic diseases is clear,” and then went on to cite the findings of numerous studies. The authors offered a “conservative” estimate that an excise tax of 1 cent per ounce would lead to a minimum reduction of 10% in calorie consumption from sweetened beverages, “a reduction that is sufficient for weight loss and reduction in risk.”

4. And as for your assertion that a tax on beverages “won’t make a dent in paying for improved healthcare or addressing obesity,” the NEJM article predicts a 1 cent per ounce tax would raise $14.9 billion in the first year alone. That amounts to around one-sixth of the estimated annual costs of the health reform bill being crafted by the Senate Finance Committee. I’d call that a pretty good-sized dent.

Even so, there are actually some points upon which we can agree: 1) obesity is a serious and complex problem that requires thoughtful and comprehensive solutions, and 2) education, exercise and balanced diets are critical to solving this problem.

It’s not necessary to raise taxes on all your members’ products to put such incentives into play. According to your web site, the industry’s single-serve bottled water products already account for 19.3 percent of sales and diet sodas accounted for four of the industry’s top 10 carbonated soft drinks and another 19 percent of that market. Any changes produced by a tax would not leave your members high and dry, but instead would help them grow the markets for their healthier alternatives.

Whether or not the tax would “make a dent” in improving the health care system, $14.9 billion a year would certainly be enough to fund precisely the type of public education effort that you say is needed to persuade people to pursue exercise and a balanced diet.

Could we count on you to support such a proposal? If so, we’d love to meet with the beverage industry to discuss it. If you don’t mind, we’ll supply the drinks.

Robert J. Gould, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Partnership for Prevention

1 Comment:

  1. Anonymous said...
    Dear PFP,
    "shaping policies, improving health"......stay the heck out of our lives. Coca Cola for all! Long live the ABA and the hundreds of thousands of ordinary folks they employ!

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