Since activists failed to get a statewide soda tax on the books in California last year, they’ve turned to Bay Area municipalities to make local residents lab rats in the war on fat. The first to join them could be the city of Richmond. Last week the city council voted to place Kelly Brownell’s “penny-per-ounce” tax on sugary beverages on its November referendum ballot.
Needless to say, the godfather of the Twinkie Tax is ecstatic. He called the action “quite forward-looking” from his high perch at Yale. But his glee pales in comparison to the rhetoric of tax-touting Richmond city councilman Jeff Ritterman, who channeled Robert “Toxic Sugar” Lustig when he argued that soft drinks are “poisonous.”
Fortunately, there’s some sanity in San Fran. The San Francisco Chronicle editors panned the ballot initiative almost immediately, noting that if the tax passes, people won’t be any thinner. They’ll find ways around it—the easiest being “buy[ing] in bulk in neighboring towns.”
That barely skims the surface: Research has shown that consumers, especially the poorest consumers, are likely to switch to equally caloric beverages under any soda tax regime, removing any purported health benefits to the invasive tax. And the weight losses the soda tax is projected to cause are vanishingly small, topping out at about one pound over a year.
Ritterman knows that consumers will shop with their feet if it comes. What’s his solution? Expand the tax radius. He told the Contra Costa Times that other municipalities will take up Richmond’s torch. (He didn’t say what he’d do about those who switched to fruit juice or milk, which contain just as many calories.)
Of course, since it takes a battery of guilt-trips and a bait-and-switch to get the appearance of support for soda taxes, that torch might be snuffed out in Richmond, to say nothing of other cities. After all, even San Francisco’s city council—not exactly a brain trust of savvy policymakers—took a pass on a soda tax. If the diet-dictating social engineers can’t win on what should be home ground, where can they win?