The New York Times this week had a lengthy story on the battle over efforts by local officials in Washington, D.C., to impose a tax on sugary soft drinks.

The New York Times this week had a lengthy story on the battle over efforts by local officials in Washington, D.C., to impose a tax on sugary soft drinks.

Advocates say such a tax could help fight the nation’s obesity problem — the same way raising taxes on cigarettes has helped deter smoking.

But, as expected, major soft-drink companies are fighting the idea and have already defeated plans for similar taxes in New York and Philadelphia.

With Evanston facing an ongoing budget crunch and with local officials often eager to embrace what’s seen as socially progressive legislation, Evanston Now asked Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl about the idea, and she said it sounded like “interesting way to make money and improve public health.”

But the road to a soda tax here wouldn’t be straight forward. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says that under current Illinois law Chicago is the only municipality with the power to impose a soda tax.

So, what do you think? Should Evanston lawmakers in Springfield work to get state law changed so the city could tax soda pop? Vote in our poll and add your comments.

Update 7:30 p.m.: State. Rep. Robyn Gabel of Evanston, asked this afternoon about the soda tax concept, said she’d be inclined to support it. “I don’t believe in sugary drinks for anybody…in Chicago or not,” she said.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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2 Comments

  1. Comparing cigarette tax to soda tax

    "Advocates say such a tax could help fight the nation’s obesity problem — the same way raising taxes on cigarettes has helped deter smoking."

    I believe that this is misguided thinking. Cigarette taxes are exceptionally effective at deterring smoking because;

    1. Most (95%) of smokers become addicted as children.

    2. Children have a much higher degree of price sensitivity to cigarettes than adults (-1.14 vs. -0.40, meaning that a 10% increase in price leads to a 11.4% and 4% reductions respectively).

    Therefor, a change in the tax hits people who are not yet addicted the hardest BEFORE THEY BECOME ADDICTED. This is why we see such a massive reduction in smoking when the tax increases. Do we have this information about soda? It seems to me that children are hooked on sugary drinks much earlier than they are on cigarettes and it is because their parents are buying it for them at a very young age. Adults are not very price sensitive when it comes to buying food because it is such a small portion of their income. Brand loyalty, which we know is key in the soda market, also helps to reduce that sensitivity. So while this may be a significant source of revenue, I wouldn’t expect to see a significant decrease in the amount of soda consumed in response to a modest tax increase.

    I also see this as being a regressive tax, in that it would impose a greater burden on lower income families than others. This is a feature that it would share with cigarette taxes.

    Cig. taxes also seek to compensate society for some of the cost of smoking that is not fully internalized by the smoker. Second-hand smoke exposure leads to increased myocardial infarction risk, smokers become a huge burden on the social medical care programs late in life (obese people typically don’t live as long), cigarettes annoy non-smokers, etc. It is more difficult to quantify the potential negative externalities of obesity and even harder to say that soda alone causes this obesity.

    So if the only object of this tax is $$$, and we don’t care that the poor are burdened the most by it, then go right ahead because it will be a great source of revenue. However, if we are doing it expecting the results of a cigarette tax, then I think that we are going to be extremely disappointed with the outcome.

    Josh Nees

  2. Soda tax

    Josh,

    Thanks for delineating why there are always unitended consequences.  Taxing food is especially hard on lower income people because food represents a larger part of their expenses relative to income.

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