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Boulder, land of the free and the home of the fit, seems like the last city that would need a soda tax. Even though there are more Whole Foods than McDonald’s per square mile here, some still see reason to place a tax on sugary drinks.
Issue 2H is a measure that Boulder voters see on their ballot this November. The proposed legislation would place a 2 cent per-ounce excise tax on the distributor of any drink with 5 grams or more of added sugar per 12 ounces of fluid. This means you’ll pay 24 cents extra on that 12-ounce Coke that you grab with lunch. There are a few exceptions to this tax, including milk products, baby formula, alcoholic beverages and medical drinks.
The purpose of this tax is a bit confusing when you think about it in the context of our community; Boulder is one of America’s fittest cities. Boulder’s obesity rate was 12.4 percent in 2014, compared to the national average in 2012 of 36.5 percent. A tax on sugary drinks is an unnecessary act of parenting by the government.
Organizations like Healthy Boulder Kids that are trying to garner support for measure 2H by claiming that it would offset the societal costs that overweight and obese individuals pose on their community. They are also hoping to incentivize living a healthy lifestyle. However, the logic behind the tax is flawed, even though the outcomes they are trying to produce are not.
If the purpose of the tax is to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks, the tax should be imposed directly on consumers. It should not implemented as an excise tax, which is put directly on distributors. Consumers will certainly feel the consequences of this tax, but will be less aware that they are paying more because their purchase is unhealthy. To reduce consumption of sugary drinks, the government should advertise this tax as a sales tax specifically levied on consumers who choose to make an unhealthy decision.
The flaws in 2H continue. Proponents of this tax believe that their fellow citizens don’t have enough education, will power or refined decision-making skills to choose their health over the allure of a sugary soda. They want to take the decision away from consumers by manipulating them into making the right choice.
In reality, the choice between sugary syrup and water is not as clear-cut as we might think. Many don’t have the access to healthy drinks, or the money to buy reduced-sugar drinks. In fact, in many grocery stores, a bottle of water costs more than a bottle of soda. The burden of this tax will fall on those who can’t afford to buy a sugar-free sparkling juice, and who certainly can’t afford to carry the weight of this tax.
Furthermore, this tax isn’t solely focused on the refined-sugar-laced drinks that come to mind when most people think of their favorite sugary drink (Coke, Mountain Dew, Hawaiian Punch, etc.). The tax also targets drinks like the locally-produced Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha, a drink made with the purpose of being an alternative to sugar-drenched drinks. Local small businesses like Rowdy Mermaid will have to reassess their menu and drink options.
It is true that corporations like Coke and Pepsi — also known as “Big Soda” — have been pouring money into the fight against soda taxes. This kind of industry-backed fight leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many. It’s also true that when an industry, like soda or tobacco, has a financial interest in a matter, they’ll do their best to ensure that they don’t lose. But just because a financially-driven company backs a cause doesn’t inherently demoralize that cause. By the same logic, large corporations that have gone organic or “green” for the sake of revenue could also be admonished.
A thriving city like Boulder does not need parental oversight from their government. Boulder’s citizens have proven that they can make healthy choices, whether that be drinking water over soda, going for a run instead of to the mall or eating kale instead of cake. A tax on sugary drinks in Boulder is not a measure to protect citizens from their own poor choices, but rather a way to collect revenue from those who decide to drink a Coke.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Kim Habicht at firstname.lastname@example.org.