Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Massachusetts needs to implement a soda tax

Several Massachusetts lawmakers created bills that would levy an excise tax on sugary drinks. Given the obesity epidemic in our country, this would be an important first step in promoting a healthier diet for many Massachusetts residents.

According to WCVB, under the proposed legislation, beverages with between 7.5 and 30 grams of sugar per 12 fluid ounces would be taxed at 1 cent per ounce. Drinks with more than 30 grams of sugar per 12 fluid ounces would be taxed at 2 cents per ounce.

For example, a 99-cent Arizona Iced Tea would have a 46-cent tax, and a $1.79 bottle of Coca-Cola would have a $1.34 tax.

It’s estimated the tax would bring in between $280 million and $320 million a year in revenue, Allyson Perron of the American Heart Association told WCVB.

Soda taxes work. In 2014, Berkeley, California, became the first U.S. city to impose a so-called “soda tax,” which applies to any beverage with added sugars such as sodas, energy drinks, sweetened coffees and fruit juices.

UC Berkeley researchers found one year after the city’s soda tax enactment, sweetened beverage consumption had fallen 21 percent. Three years later, it had dropped 52 percent. In the neighboring cities of Oakland and San Francisco, sweetened beverage consumption was unchanged over the three-year time frame.

Reducing sugary drink consumption is important. About 25,000 deaths per year in the United States are associated with these beverages, according to the Boston Public Health Commission. In 2010, 56 percent of Boston adults and 2.2 percent of Boston Public School students were obese or overweight.

While it is true a soda tax would likely affect lower-income communities the most, as most flat taxes do, sugary drinks are unnecessary and unhealthy. A soda tax would push all consumers to choose healthier, non-sugary beverage options. At the very least, it would make them more conscious of their purchasing decisions.

Berkeley also puts its soda tax revenue to good use. Most of the money is allocated to nutrition education and gardening programs in schools, as well as to local organizations that promote healthy lifestyles, according to Berkeley News.

If Massachusetts were to pass this proposed soda tax legislation, it should come hand-in-hand with a marketing and information campaign. Bringing awareness to the dangers of sugary beverages, and unhealthy foods in general, is a necessary step in fighting the nation’s obesity epidemic.

Some will argue the government should not be able to tell us what we can and can’t drink, and that a soda tax does just that. But the government can and should get involved in public health crises — and drinks like soda are contributing to poor and unhealthy diets every day in cans and glasses across the country.

The Commonwealth should adopt a soda tax and set an example for other states across the country.

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