Anti-Obesity Soda Tax Fails as Lobbyists Spend Millions: Retail

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By Duane D. Stanford,

Last month, Hawaii lawmakers killed a proposed tax that would have added 17 cents to a single-serve bottle of soda. It was the second failed attempt, even though Governor Neil Abercrombie had pushed the proposed levy.

Like many advocates of a sugary beverage tax, Abercrombie faced a well-funded lobbying campaign from soda makers opposed to such efforts, which are designed to stem rising rates of obesity. Since the beginning of 2009, PepsiCo Inc. (PEP), Coca-Cola Co. (KO) and the American Beverage Association have spent as much as $ 70 million on lobbying and issue ads, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a proponent of soda taxes.

Efforts to enact such levies have foundered in 30 states.

“Whoever is loudest tends to control the discussion and, generally speaking, you buy your microphone with money,” said Judith Phillips, a research analyst for Mississippi State University who studied the issue for lawmakers.

Health advocates agree soft drinks are an unhealthy source of sugar in Americans’ diets. More than 35 percent of U.S. adults and about 17 percent of youths — or roughly 90 million people — are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some say taxing soft drinks is one of the most effective ways to reverse the trend.

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