Soft drinks making us soft? Let's tax 'em!

Saturday , August 02, 2014 - 3:27 PM

Let the hoarding begin.

If, indeed, the writing is on the wall, and governments are eventually going to begin taxing the holy heck out of soda pop, I predict we’ll see a run on soft drinks the likes of which we haven’t seen since the New Coke fiasco.

You remember New Coke, don’t you? Coca-Cola reformulated its flagship soft drink back in the 1980s in an attempt to compete with Pepsi’s sweeter taste, and it sparked a backlash that saw many folks stocking up on the original formula before it disappeared from grocery shelves.

It was just like The Great Twinkie Run of 2012, when Hostess filed for bankruptcy and announced it would cease production of the golden cream-filled sponge cake. Speculators were buying up all the Twinkies in anticipation of their going extinct. Why, I even added a few dozen boxes of Hostess products to my two-year food storage, just in case.

But now, could we see a similar thing happen with all soft drinks?

This November, the residents of Berkeley, Calif., will decide whether or not to begin imposing a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. The Berkeley City Council has unanimously decided to put the question on the ballot, in what has been dubbed the “Berkeley vs. Big Soda” campaign.

A penny-per-ounce tax may not seem like much, but that’s 12 cents on a can, and 67 cents on a two-liter bottle. That stuff adds up.

I called my niece, Jamie Wilkey, on this whole soda pop question. She’s a pharmacist down in Utah County, and a few years back, after taking a physiology class for her degree at the University of Wyoming, she became quite militant about the ingredients in colas and other soft drinks.

At every family gathering, each time someone pulled out a soda pop, Jamie would immediately begin preaching on the evils of weak drink. It was like Pavlov’s dogs — hear the “fwooosh” sound of a carbonated beverage being opened, watch Jamie start ranting about the devil’s brew.

And Jamie’s parents had it even worse. She actually posted a list of soda pop’s offenses against humanity on her parents’ refrigerator.

“It was enough to scare Dad straight,” Jamie recalls. “Dad quit cold turkey, it took mom a little longer. But this year she finally quit drinking it.”

Jamie eventually stopped lecturing us at reunions, and I thought maybe she’d had a change of heart. Hardly.

“I just felt like ‘This is a broken record,’ so I stopped talking about it to everybody,” she confesses.

But Jamie’s dislike for soft drinks burns just as brightly.

“I don’t like soda pop,” she says. “It’s a waste of money and calories; it has no redeeming value.”

One of her big beefs with the drink is that its “empty calories” pack on the weight — which causes all sorts of health concerns.

“Even with diet soda, it’s not clear how it happens, but they’ve found you still gain weight with it,” she says.

Add the caffeine that many of these drinks contain, and the acidic way they eat away at the teeth and stomach, and Jamie says it’s just a smart choice.

“Soda pop is worse than anything we’re eating,” Jamie says.

In fact, after tobacco, alcohol and drugs, Jamie places soft drinks at No. 4 on the Unhealthy Hit Parade.

“It’s awful for you,” she says.

She’d vote to tax Big Gulps and their ilk in a heartbeat here in Utah: “I’d even put a sign in my yard.”

Granted, soda pop isn’t particularly good for you. And I suppose if you’re going to tax things like cigarettes and alcohol under the assumption that they create all manner of expensive social ills that we as taxpayers end up paying for, it only makes sense to tax soft drinks, too.

Still, I can’t help but think we’re opening up a big ol’ can of “What Other Potentially Unhealthy Stuff Should We Tax Next?” I mean, seriously, what IS next? A fat tax on ice cream? Doughnuts? Potato chips? Televisions? Video games? Recliners? Books? Because when you think about it, all these things can contribute to keeping you from becoming physically fit.

As can your reading of this column right now. I mean, seriously, shouldn’t you people be doing sit-ups or something?

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.

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