Just in time for most of America’s state legislatures to convene for their annual sessions, a British-led pressure group announced a campaign called “Action on Sugar” to pass laws that force companies to reduce the sugar content in foods. One commentator noted an important distinction between this latest move and the traditional food policing that sought to nudge people to informed decision-making:
No, if informed adults with the right to choose won’t do as the nannies want, they should have that choice removed. The problems with this principle ought to be clear. If the issue is people failing to act responsibly, then it won’t be rectified by treating them like children. Add to that the unpleasant sight of privileged elites, trying to restrict the little luxuries people enjoy, and you have a policy which is both incoherent and vicious.
In American statehouses, the impulse that drives Brits into their newest activist pressure group manifests itself in proposed beverage taxes and food ban bills. State legislatures across the country will likely introduce or consider a series of misguided measures that would reduce food choices and consumer freedoms.
California (of course) is the hotbed of activist intrusion into food choices, with legislators expected to consider a bill that would levy $20,000 charges on manufacturers of products deemed contributors to “public health epidemics” and a soft drink tax that stalled in the legislature last year. But the Golden State isn’t alone: Vermont is expected to actively advance a punitive tax on soft drinks to cover a projected budget deficit, with other states potentially to follow.
Meanwhile a certain subset of liberals hopes to use election-year politics to use taxing beverages or sugar in general as a “wedge issue” — an issue that divides the opposite political view — against more conservative candidates, if a Huffington Post headline is to be believed. It’s an interesting exercise in poll denial: National polling from the Pew Research Center shows majorities of all major political groupings (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) do not favor these taxes, and actual popular votes on soda taxes in Democratic-leaning areas show that those results might actually overstate support. Regardless, San Francisco may vote on a soda tax this November.
Ultimately, none of these efforts are likely to make a dent in our waistlines. Evidence shows that the projected daily calorie reductions from soda taxes are vanishingly small and certain to fail to reduce obesity meaningfully. Legislators and outside activists are trying curtail beverage freedom: Get educated and read CCF’s report on why soft drink regulations won’t reduce obesity before it’s too late.