soda and cigarette

A Small Victory for Teeth? Soda & Tobacco Taxes Win

soda and cigaretteWhile the presidential election certainly took center stage this past week, election night also resulted in four cities passing new taxes on soda and sugary beverages, as well as California opting to raise tobacco taxes.

Voters in San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany gave the green light to a penny-per-ounce tax levy on sugar sweetened beverages. Boulder, Colorado voters opted for an excise tax that will add two cents per fluid ounce for soda and sugar-sweetened drinks.

Nationally, tobacco tax measures didn’t fare so well. Colorado voters chose not to support an increase of nearly a dollar per pack. Voters in North Dakota likewise said nay to a significant tax hike that would have funded health programs and veteran’s services. Missouri, a state with one of the highest smoking rates in the country, bowed out altogether, with proposed legislation not even making the ballot.

But here in California, 63% of voters said yes to raising the cigarette tax by $2 per pack. Celebrating the victory of Prop 56, the California Dental Association noted that we have

taken a significant step to address a critical public health issue and improve oral health in California. Proposition 56 will save thousands of lives, save the health care system billions of dollars, and provide substantial new funding for Medi-Cal provider reimbursements so more patients can get care. Also, the state oral health program overseen by California’s dental director will now receive $30 million per year, a tenfold increase in state funding for a program that has not previously had a dedicated revenue source.

While these tax increases will have a direct effect on the pocketbook, their intent, of course, is to encourage people to think twice about how these products will affect their health. Certainly we know the damaging effects that smoking and sugar have on oral and systematic health. All taxpayers pay the price in healthcare costs for sugar- and tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Opponents of the beverage tax increases say it not only unfairly targets those living in poverty but unfairly targets the soft drink industry, as well. According to CNN Money,

All kinds of sugar pose risks. Taxing sugary drinks is usually discussed in the context of beverages that have “added” sugar. But all sugars may contribute to health risks, including the naturally occurring ones in juices and other beverages.

And that’s a good point. If public health is the goal and sugar is the problem, should we really be cherry picking among products? Why not just tax manufacturers based on the amount of sugar they add to their products, from soda to cereal and everything in between? That might actually create an incentive to limit sugar. Manufacturers could then pass the price increase onto to their consumers, or reinvent products with less sugar.

After a contentious election season, it seems we’re all still sorting out to what degree government oversite is appropriate and beneficial.

Image by brittneykatelyn, via Flickr