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The Soda Industry’s War on the Soda Tax

Recently, the number of studies suggesting that sugar has negative effects on the body have grown exponentially. Obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis are just a few of the negative consequences that arise from consuming too much sugar. As a result of increasing evidence against the sweet substance, soda tax bans are finding growing acceptance in the public. A new report on PRWatch.org found that the beverage industry is aggressively fighting back with moves learned from big tobacco.

Sugar, a Profitable Drug

So why do we eat so much sugar?

Some studies have shown sugar to be more addictive than cocaine. Similar to illegal drugs, sugar hijacks the brain’s pleasure sensors and releases “feel good” chemicals like dopamine into the body.

This leaves you wanting more and more, and with Coca-Cola containing nine teaspoons of sugar per can, you can suddenly realize why we drink so much soda. Just because it’s packaged in nice-looking bottles and cans doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful.

As PRWatch reported, one study showed that drinking two of these drinks a day can increase the risk of developing diabetes by 26 percentAnother study showed that men who drink a can each day increase their risk of having a heart attack by 20 percent.

Combatting Sugar With a Soda Tax

Due to such findings, steps have been taken to attempt reducing the consumption of these types of drinks. One of the moves is through a local soda tax that has been used across American cities in an act of local democracy.

As time has passed, these soda taxes have proven effective.

In Philadelphia, researchers at Drexel University carried out a survey of soda consumption prior to the tax being introduced, and then again two months afterward. 

The results were impressive: daily consumption of soda had dropped by 40 percent and the consumption of bottled water had risen by almost 60 percent.

Other benefits were also cited. Mayor Jim Kenney pointed out that almost $80 million had been raised in the first year alone, and that this money had been spent on education and community schools.

The Soda Industry Fights Back

The soda industry, however, is fighting back and attempting to introduce bills that act at a state level to ban local areas from implementing similar taxes.

A good example of this is in Washington State, where Seattle implemented a soda tax. As PRWatch reported, soon after the tax took effect, an opposing campaign was started to prevent other Washington state cities from bringing in a similar tax.

The opposition was led by the ABA (American Beverage Association), which represents all of the leading producers of sugary drinks, including Coke and Pepsi. Funded by these companies, the ABA has a fund of $79 million solely dedicated to lobbying toward policies that benefit these companies but harm America’s overall health.

The ABA, PRWatch said, has used many different avenues to fight against the soda ban, including the use of front groups, PR campaigns and TV advertising that suggests the soda tax increases costs for working-class families. PRWatch says the soda industry’s efforts are similar to big tobacco’s efforts in the 1980s to combat the anti-smoking messages of the time.

Highlighting the ABA’s public relations efforts, PRWatch explains that the advertisements don’t feature the CEOs of these big companies, but instead use the poor, middle class or minorities to peddle the ABA’s message with scripted, empathy-inducing tactics like “we’re being taxed out of Cook County, I’m a single mom, I can’t afford this tax” or “we try to offer the best food at the best price… [but] with that tax the working man can’t afford it anymore.”

The only name attached to the advertisements is the ABA, thus, not implicating any actual soda companies.

The ABA argues that jobs are lost due to the taxes’ implementation, but this has been shown to be unlikely. In fact, studies suggest the opposite has occurred, and unemployment has dropped in cities that have introduced a soda ban.

The industry also claims that people simply leave the state to shop in “tax-free” zones, but again, this has been disproven by the study carried out at Drexel University, which shows that people may simply switch to drinking water.

The ABA and the Soda Industry Aren’t Letting Up

While the ABA is being shown more and more statistics and studies that provide evidence of the harmful effects of these drinks, nothing seems able to stop them from continuing to fight against the ban.

While fighting at a local level is difficult, the industry’s power at a state level is still strong. Because of this, they have moved their attention to undermining local powers through implementing state restrictions on what local governments can and can’t do to tackle “the soda problem,” as PRWatch explains.

How successful this campaign will be–we don’t yet know.

However, with so many Americans drinking soda on a daily basis, (a Gallup poll suggests that it’s as much as 48 percent of Americans), and the amount of data that shows the harmfulness of these drinks, it is a not a subject to be taken lightly.

Proponents of the soda tax, such as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would argue that we’re not going far enough with just a local tax, and if the soda ban is as effective as the Drexel study suggests, we should be taking it a step further and implementing it across the entire nation.


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