Julie Gunlock

When soft drinks were invented in the late 18th century, they were sold mainly in pharmacies and used for their “medicinal qualities,” which were thought to treat everything from stomach ailments to headaches and even impotence. How times have changed.

These days, soft drinks are in the cross hairs of the food nannies, and are blamed for a variety of conditions and social ills – from obesity to violence in children. One researcher even recently called the sugar in soda “a toxic substance.”

Such hyperbole helps snag headlines, but such rhetoric has little to do with actual research on the health impact of soda consumption. The far less dramatic truth is that while obesity rates have climbed in this country, soda consumption is at an all-time low. In fact, soft drink sales have been declining for a full seven years.

Food nannies determined to tax sodas or ban them all together in the name of reducing obesity need to explain how we can blame Americans’ weight problems on soft drinks when there has been a precipitous drop in soda sales over the past decade. In fact, government officials at all levels need to justify why they waste taxpayer dollars on anti-soda campaigns.

Consider just a sample of the regulatory and tax efforts on the horizon: Washington State, Oregon, California, Rhode Island, and Illinois all are considering placing soda taxes on the ballot in November. According to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, twenty-two states already tax soft drinks through regular sales taxes (food and beverages, including sodas, are typically exempted from sales tax). Four states—Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia--have for years placed excise taxes on sodas. Those excise taxes are placed on soft drinks ostensibly to reduce the obesity rates in these states; yet, those states continue to top the list of states with the highest percentage of obese citizens.

Although Americans may understand the impulse to want to encourage healthy eating, they are inherently skeptical of sin taxes and government attempts to coerce citizens into eating what the government decides is “right.” According to a poll released this month, a full 62 percent of Americans oppose soda taxes and a whopping 81 percent agree that individuals should take responsibility for their own actions.

Julie Gunlock

Julie Gunlock is director of the Culture of Alarmism project at the Independent Women’s Forum (www.iwf.org).