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Uphill climb for pop tax

Thursday, Feb 20, 2014

* Backers of a proposed tax on sugared pop to fund health initiatives are busily lowering expectations

One of the measure’s sponsors, state Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, said the proposal will be “very difficult to pass” due to resistance from consumers and the state’s business community. […]

American Heart Association spokesman Mark Peysakhovich said the legislation is just the first step in what likely will be a very lengthy fight.

“We’re not kidding ourselves,” he said. “This is the first year of a significant campaign. I compare this quite a bit to our work on tobacco taxes. The industry has the dream team.

“It’s going to take time to get the message across, but we feel that the public will finally support us. Anybody playing defense on this issue has already lost.”

* Background

The tax on the sugary drinks, including sports drinks, soda, fruit juices and some coffees, to name a few, is estimated to raise $600 million annually. Half of the money would go to Medicaid to reinstate dental care and other cuts. The other half would go to a wellness fund to promote community health and awareness. The Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity said in a written statement that the tax targets sugar-sweetened drinks because strong evidence links them to obesity and other chronic illnesses.

* But opponents are focusing on the tax itself

While sugary drinks are linked to obesity and other medical issues, some question whether a tax is the best way to get people to cut back on consumption. “The soft drink industry has done a good job at making consumers know calories — not that it wasn’t on there before, but by putting it on the front of the can and from minimizing the ounces in cans,” said Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. Triche said merchants are already working on ways to promote better choices by having healthy foods at the entrance of the stores to help consumers think of better choices as they arrive. “It is already happening without the government getting involved by taxing.” She said the organization wants consumers to spend money buying more produce and food, rather than on taxes.

The Taxpayers Federation of Illinois has not taken a stance on the bill, but President Carol Portman said, “If you want to fight obesity, taxing isn’t the way to do it.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        


43 Comments
  1. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 9:49 am:

    The comparison to tobacco isn’t soup yet. A lot more people drink pop, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and frappucinos than smoke.

    Only about 18% of Americans now smoke. That makes it way easier to tax.


  2. - A guy... - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 9:58 am:

    Taxing bodies get to decide what you eat by economically raising the bar. Wait til they go after pasta and other carbs. I remember the arguments about tobacco taxing and people saying eventually it would move to soda, fast food, snacks, etc. We were assured No…and yet here we are.


  3. - A Modest Proposal - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:00 am:

    I wouldn’t consider a tax like this, one thing that may be on the table is a deposit of a nickle or dime on each container of “pop.” A deposit on pop is able to be exempted from link, and ultimately the tax is voluntary.


  4. - Just Observing - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:00 am:

    Silliness. Where will it end? Special taxes on donuts, ice cream, sugared gum, sugared cereal, etc.? I’m a very conscious eater and drink only a handful of sodas each year, but this type of government overreach is crazy. There are thousands upon thousands of bad habits people engage in — not exercising, not sleeping enough, not eating enough fruits/veggies — are we going to try to address all of this via legislation?


  5. - Jaded - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    Listen, if you think kids are going to stop drinking mountain dew because the price goes up 12 cents per can, you are crazy. The health issue is a bogus one. This is about more money period, and the Heart Association is a willing participant, because they will be the first bidder when these “community health and wellness grants” are created.


  6. - countyline - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:19 am:

    The whole idea is ridiculous, but it would be slightly more palatable if the money were going to pay off debt or close the budget deficit, as opposed to using it for pet programs.


  7. - downstate commissioner - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:32 am:

    I drink a LOT of pop; this tax won’t keep me from buying and drinking it, but it might cause me to change my vote for a legislator if he voted for it…


  8. - downstate commissioner - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:34 am:

    Why don’t they tax the “diet” pop with all the non-sugar poisons in it???


  9. - downstate commissioner - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:37 am:

    “…anybody playing defense on this has already lost.”
    Pretty confident isn’t he???


  10. - Dirty Red - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:41 am:

    I can’t believe this post has been online for almost an hour and no one has pointed out the obvious typo in the headline.

    It’s called “soda.”


  11. - Anon - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:41 am:

    “Silliness. Where will it end? Special taxes on donuts, ice cream, sugared gum, sugared cereal, etc.?”

    Way past you, mate.

    In Illinois, a Kit Kat bar gets a different tax rate than a Hershey Bar.

    The sugary drink tax is just an extension of that.


  12. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:43 am:

    When I was little, my parents told me what to eat.

    As an adult, “Mom” no longer tells me when it’s OK to have a cookie for dessert or drink a Gatorade after working out. Nor is it OK for her to punish me for making that choice responsibly.

    Aren’t there larger problems facing our state and fellow citizens at the moment?


  13. - votecounter - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:44 am:

    The problem with the Democrats here in Illinois is they see a pie but it has stopped growing they keep trying to divy up the same size pie; instead of trying to grow the pie! Cut taxes and regulations to entice businesses here to INVEST their money, get rid of the antiquated Committeemen system so there are not 50 hands out for business trying to open up in Chicago. Get rid of the head tax and the living wage and allow people to work. Look at all of the empty lots and factories; sell them. The infrastructure surrounding those facilities was put there for manufacturing. Roads over passes etc, you have to cut this 50 different kingdoms idea where everyone has their hand out. An alderman can stop any project or business he wants until you take care of him. You had better hope the Alderman is Committeemen too or you have to duke another person. Then you have the guy on 5 and his people to duke, and you haven’t even opened your doors yet. And you wonder why?


  14. - Jake From Elwood - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:49 am:

    Tax the horseshoe. Anyone who eats that cheezy garbage should be financially penalized.


  15. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:50 am:

    Wordslinger:

    You can make this comparison to tobacco, if you are IRMA:

    Where is all of the cigarette tax money going? Whar about the tobacco settlement?

    Certainly not to smoking cessation programs.

    If the past is any evidence, the Tooth Fairy Tax may indeed initially be used to fund obesity prevention. That will last about four years.


  16. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:50 am:

    What did the folks at Ocean Spray, Tropicana and elsewhere do to earn this ire before Pizza Hut or Dunkin’ Donuts?

    And why punitively tax certain types of Orange Juice but not Big Macs?


  17. - Just Observing - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    === Why don’t they tax the “diet” pop with all the non-sugar poisons in it??? ===

    If the tax doesn’t include “diet” pop you are so right. As I said before, I hardly drink pop, but when I do, it’s always regular as I try to avoid artificial sweeteners.


  18. - Just Observing - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 10:54 am:

    === In Illinois, a Kit Kat bar gets a different tax rate than a Hershey Bar. ===

    Is that true?


  19. - Jabes - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 11:06 am:

    Just Observing, I think it’s that “candy tax” that was enacted a few years ago, which for some reason excluded candy that had flour in it. So anything that has a cookie element isn’t taxed the extra amount.


  20. - DuPage - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 11:16 am:

    @Modest Proposal, 10:AM=”a deposit of a nickel or dime per container of pop”.
    There is a big difference between a deposit and a tax.
    The states that have that put in deposit laws did so to reduce the cost of roadside cleanup. They want the containers recycled. If some throws a container out the car window they lose 10 cents. The person gathering cans from the side of the road gets a dime.
    It is not a tax, it is not designed to influence what people drink.


  21. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 11:37 am:

    @Just Observing 10:53 - you are right.

    The bill specifically exempts drinks with “non-caloric sweeteners” which “includes, without limitation, aspartame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose” from this special tax.

    Apparently that means chemicals are perfectly fine to drink. Just not any sort of “real” sugar.


  22. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 11:38 am:

    Why not just tax freedom and apple pie while they’re at it?

    Oh no…

    Apple pie has sugar in it.


  23. - Jake From Elwood - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:13 pm:

    Several medical studies have pointed out that aspartame and NutraSweet products trick your brain into thinking you are still hungry but result in weight gain rather than weight loss. It is not a weight loss product. Google it.


  24. - Downstate Simpleton - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:33 pm:

    I wonder if the founding fathers envisioned taxation as a means for government or “do-gooders” to alter peoples’ actions or did they feel people were responsible for themselves and taxation is done to provide for the common good such as police, military, highways, fire protection etc. Whenever “sin” taxes rear up I just believe that it’s NOT the proper application of taxing authority.


  25. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:38 pm:

    ===I wonder if the founding fathers envisioned taxation as a means for government or “do-gooders” to alter peoples’ actions ===

    Dude, booze taxes funded government forever in this country until Prohibition.


  26. - 3rd Generation Chicago Native - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:43 pm:

    The Colorado Governor can’t believe how much tax revenue Pot is bringing in. Maybe we can seriously entertain legalizing recreational pot?
    People will be willing and able to fork over the money.


  27. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:46 pm:

    –I wonder if the founding fathers envisioned taxation as a means for government or “do-gooders” to alter peoples’ actions …–

    Among the first taxes implemented by the “founding fathers” were federal excise taxes on whiskey, rum, tobacco, snuff and sugar.

    During the “Whiskey Rebellion,” President Washington himself led an army to put down insurgents who refused to pay the tax.


  28. - Lower Obesity - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:54 pm:

    Scientific research backs taxing sugary beverages, but not other junk foods. This proposal is not a slippery slope to taxing other things, because it’s based only on what the science supports. I like the idea because obesity costs this state so much money and we need to help reduce the collective burden of this disease.


  29. - Anon - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:54 pm:

    There is very little being spent on prevention in this cash-strapped state, especially as vital programs and services have been gutted in recent years. We’ve got to shift our focus from treatment to prevention, for our budgetary bottom line and for the health of our fellow Illinoisans This wellness fund would be a big move in the right direction!


  30. - redleg - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:56 pm:

    “It’s going to take time to get the message across, but we feel that the public will finally support us. Anybody playing defense on this issue has already lost.”

    Am I the only person who finds the above quote to be even slightly disturbing?


  31. - Rob Roy - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 12:57 pm:

    And I don’t drink pop by the way. I’m a tea man


  32. - Not job loss, but job shifts - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 1:03 pm:

    The jobs issue seems to be a red herring. If you tax something that has an alternative, economic sciences says they will move to a cheaper alternative. If Coke becomes more expensive, I can move to Coke Zero or Dasani Water, which will not be taxed, and both of which are Coke products. There’s no job loss there. If people move to non-Coke products, they will still drink SOMETHING, and that something will be manufactured. Tax policy should reflect our values, and we should value increased health and reduced diseases instead of the specific location of an individual job.


  33. - Nicky - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 1:13 pm:

    This is a situation where it would be interesting if posters had to use their real names. It appears that many of these comments come from individuals with a vested interest in this issue, both for and against. Many are not very artful and concealing their bias, both the goo-goos and the dream team. Bottom line: when and if the state really needs that money, they will pass the tax. Will they use it for health-related programs? That is anyone’s guess.


  34. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 1:16 pm:

    @Jake from Elwood - that is more than a bit ironic in this case. Thank you for teaching me something new.


  35. - Do Gooder - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 1:54 pm:

    ====I wonder if the founding fathers envisioned taxation as a means for government or “do-gooders” to alter peoples’ actions….and taxation is done to provide for the common good ====

    Well, this tax is for the common good - to invest in creating better options for healthy eating and physical activity and Medicaid.

    “Sugar, rum and tobacco are commodities which are nowhere necessaries of life, which are become objects of almost universal consumption, and which are therefore extremely proper subjects of taxation.”
    - Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations


  36. - Formerly Known As... - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 1:59 pm:

    === There is very little being spent on prevention in this cash-strapped state ===

    We currently have a nationwide emphasis being placed on healthy eating, prevention and physical activity, with the effort being spearheaded by the First Lady herself.

    Even the NBA, private corporations and health insurance companies are promoting wellness and prevention in our communities and daily lives.

    And among other state efforts, Illinois also has

    - A $25 million Community Transformation Grant from the CDC being spent on our “We Choose Health” initiative through 2016

    - School-specific plans designed to improve the diets, eating habits and life choices of children

    - “Illinois Strategic Plan: Promoting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity to Prevent and Control Obesity”

    - “Illinois State Health Improvement Plan”

    - Illinois Fresh Food Fund: a loan and grant program that was created to help grocers succeed in underserved markets

    along with the funding necessary to execute all the different parts of these strategic plans and initiatives.


  37. - Downstate Simpleton - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 3:10 pm:

    Rich@12:38 & WS@12:46 Sorry I’m so tardy in responding. I understand that gov’t taxes beverages and other things to raise funds to operate. I get it. What I disagree with is using taxes to dissuade someone from doing something legal but, to some, socially unacceptable.


  38. - mokenavince - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 3:16 pm:

    The sugar industry gets huge subsidize for Uncle Sam. Tax them and they will get larger subsidize.

    The way pop has gone from 6 and 9 oz containers to
    32 oz. containers really changed things.
    The good news is were drinking less pop.


  39. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 3:43 pm:

    word, a significant part of the reason that fewer than 20% smoke is the very steep tax increases that have been applied in the past several years including here in Illinois. I just don’t know whether research shows it will work on sugary beverages


  40. - Not so simpleton - Thursday, Feb 20, 14 @ 6:06 pm:

    >

    It’s not really about social accepatability. Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is perfectly acceptable. The problem is that there is a huge social cost (in medical expenses) that is borne by all of us in Illinois. The tax would both recover some of those costs and also fund prevention.


  41. - Elissa Bassler - Friday, Feb 21, 14 @ 5:08 am:

    Steve Schnorf - you’re exactly right. And yes, quite a lot of economic modeling research saying it will work the same way (Illinois is in the lead here, so no empirical data yet) That’s why the bill’s a two-fer, and invests the proceeds into evidence-based obesity prevention and evidence-based prevention services in Medicaid. Mexico passed a national sugar-sweetened beverage tax late last year.


  42. - countyline - Friday, Feb 21, 14 @ 8:22 am:

    Mexico…now there’s a country we should be using as a model for public policy…


  43. - Dr. Betty Martini, D.Hum - Friday, Feb 28, 14 @ 4:05 pm:

    It’s aspartame that has caused the obese epidemic. It’s an addictive, excitoneurotoxic, genetically engineered, carcinogenic drug and adjuvant that damages the mitochondria and even interacts with drugs and vaccines. “Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic”, www.sunsentpress.com


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