Marketing 101 For Soda Tax Pushers

A story is crossing the wires today that three in five Californians support the controversial soda tax. That struck us as odd, considering we’ve seen several national polls (including one we commissioned) that find otherwise. So it wasn’t surprising to see, upon closer inspection, that pollsters had to put the operative question after a battery of thirteen questions framing obesity as a great evil and a horrible problem. Just in case that wasn’t enough to browbeat respondents into giving “good” answers, they used a question to link “junk food or sweetened beverages” to tobacco and alcohol.

While the new poll might hearten Kelly “Twinkie Tax” Brownell and Robert “Sugar Is Poison” Lustig, it doesn’t reflect what Americans actually think about punitive food taxes. A recent national poll conducted by Harris Interactive found 62 percent of respondents opposed the soda tax as a way to improve health.

We’re not surprised that soda taxes aren’t very popular. When research into the effects of the tax shows repeatedly that people will reduce their calorie intake by less than one percent of a daily intake, citizens are right to suspect that soda taxes are really a state cash-grab.

Presumably to alleviate any cash grab or “nanny state” concerns, the California pollsters told respondents that soda tax money would fund anti-obesity programs. This is bogus. Governments made similar promises about tobacco settlement money and lottery revenues. Sure enough, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that only two percent of the tobacco settlement money went to fund smoking cessation. (The majority patched state budget shortfalls.) And the “education lotteries” in many states don’t necessarily increase education expenditures.

So California poll respondents were offered a guilt-trip followed by a bait-and-switch. It’s no surprise that many said they supported the soda tax. The fact that it took two slick marketing tactics to get that result should speak volumes about a soda tax’s real (lack of) support.

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