Don't Tax the Kool-Aid!

Image for article titled Don't Tax the Kool-Aid!

Mentholated cigarettes may have avoided the FDA's axe last week, when all other flavored smokes were banned outright. But another African American favorite—sugary drinks—is increasingly a subject of legislative interest.


Though New York State has tabled discussions about "sin taxing" (just the name is problematic) sugar-heavy drinks like soda and Kool Aid, the New York City public health department has green lighted a new subway-ad campaign designed to warn people off sugary beverages. The posters—which implore, "Don't drink yourself fat"—come on the heels of a September Men's Health article, in which President Barack Obama said he'd be willing to consider taxing soda:

I actually think it's an idea that we should be exploring. … There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda. And every study that's been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else. Obviously it's not the only factor, but it is a major factor.

Health experts writing in the New England Journal of Medicine have also called for a stern tax on soda.

Already, higher cigarette taxes disproportionately affect low-income smokers, many of whom are black. Now, with the movement to tax sugary drinks gaining steam, once again, the government is looking to penalize rather than educate the African American community, whose children consume sweet drinks at a higher rate than white youths. It's the wisdom of the war on drugs—and just look how great that's turned out!

The subway posters are a good start, but without proper, well-funded nutrition classes in the schools, they're unlikely to change anything. New York City plans on spending $277,000 developing their anti-soda campaign over the next three years. In 1998, Coca Cola's annual ad budget was $1.6 billion.


UPDATE: Ta-Nehisi Coates weighs in with the correlation between obesity and poverty:

What about people who are born into hardship? Who are born into stress and born into eating as a way of ameliorating that stress? Who grow up in an environment where mostly everyone else does the same? And then this gets conflated with old ideas about food and money—the notion that "All You Can Eat" is a good thing.

There is a culture to being fat, and putting fresh veggies in the hood isn't enough to counter it. The culture is complicated—and its more American than it is hood. I would encourage people to think about all the negative ways we cope. The upper-class may not be fat, but in my experience, they know their way around the tequila bottle.


Dan Engber has more on the economics of fat at Slate.