Nanny State (former) mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg has the wind on his back and so he’s headed to the West Coast on his own Manifest-Destiny-journey to see sweetened beverages taxed around the country.
Philadelphia, the fifth-largest U.S. city with over 1.5 million people, is now the first major city to tax soda and other sweetened beverages. Bloomberg touts the hand he had in financing the push for that sin tax. He reportedly gave about $1.6 million to proponents of the measure to wage a media campaign.
Supporters of the tax say Philadelphia is just the start and will turn their attention to other cities. Past efforts in places like New York City failed, but perhaps with this win under their belt, they can make traction.
"Philadelphia will almost certainly not be the last city to adopt a sugary drinks tax. In fact, the question now is not whether any city will follow suit, but rather how many — and how quickly?" wrote Michael Bloomberg in a statement released Friday.
"Obesity and poverty are both intractable national problems. No policy takes more direct aim at both than Philadelphia's tax on sugary drinks," Bloomberg wrote in the statement.
Where will he go next? We can look to San Francisco and Oakland, according to one of Bloomberg’s advisors, Howard Wolfson, speaking to CBNC:
"If Berkeley was a tremor, Philadelphia is an earthquake, and we expect there will be more earthquakes going forward," Wolfson said.
Wolfson declined to specify an amount that Bloomberg was willing to spend on the San Francisco and Oakland efforts, but noted that he was "not in a position to match soda dollar for dollar." Bloomberg's contributions are meant to help "level the playing field," he said.
According to The Denver Post, if the group called Healthy Boulder Kids successfully rallies support for a tax on sugary drinks to fund programs, we may see a ballot initiative in Boulder, CO, as well.
The best question to ask is whether soda taxes work in lowering obesity by changing people’s eating habits. The folks at Harvard and George Washington say so. They claim that when prices increase, people buy less of it.
While, it’s likely that there will be a reduction on sugary drinks consumed, there’s no evidence that will translate into less calories consumed, weight lost, and health problems reduced. Fortune asked the same question pointing to a study that draws similar conclusions:
If people in San Francisco drink 31% less sugary soda, does it follow that they will become thinner and healthier? Probably not—and certainly not 31% thinner and healthier. That’s despite a raft of studies over the years purporting to prove that such taxes reduce obesity (though they usually don’t claim reductions as high as 31%—usually the claims are closer to half that).
Earlier this year, Jason Fletcher, a health economist at the University of Wisconsin, published the results of a study finding that such taxes might not have any effect at all on obesity rates. That’s because people who are denied sugar in one form are likely to simply switch to another source. Previous studies have assumed that didn’t happen, because they looked at household data rather than individual consumption patterns, Fletcher said at the time. His study, published in the journal Health Economics, found that “increases in soft drink tax rates do correlate to less soda consumption, but not a reduction in calorie intake.” The effect of soda taxes on obesity, the study concluded were “small in magnitude and not statistically significant.” In one group examined — people in Ohio, which has a statewide soda tax — obesity actually increased.
Soda is far from the only contributor to obesity and ensuing health conditions and it’s not the only food that people consume which contributes to poor health. It just happens to be an easy target for progressives. Science takes a backseat to social agendas and, unfortunately, poor and low-income families are saddled with the hardship of higher taxes squeezing already tight budgets.