California City Tries to Strike it Rich (on Soda)

Before Michael Bloomberg declared war on soda in New York City, the front-line of the battle to preserve our freedom to imbibe was in Richmond, California, where the “penny-per-ounce” soda tax will appear on the November referendum ballot.

In a regional online news service, the city councilman who sponsored the measure, Jeff Ritterman, outlines his arguments for the proposed tax. The article is a wild and not-so-wonderful trip through the mind of a food activist:

[W]hy single out sugar-sweetened beverages? Can’t any food or beverage be a part of a balanced diet?  You know, have the cola with dinner but skip the chocolate cake for dessert.

That seems reasonable, but that’s based on the old science.

That “old science”—that a calorie is a calorie when it comes to weight gain—is not only backed up by common sense but also rigorous research. A recent study in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine rejected Ritterman’s theory that fructose — a monosaccharide that composes half of table sugar — causes weight gain independent of its calorie count. And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) advises that “total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of a healthful eating style. All foods can fit within this pattern, if consumed in moderation.”

Predictably, Ritterman offers the soda tax with the bait-and-switch of promising new subsidies from the revenue:

We know […] the overwhelming number of residents will support the sugar-sweetened beverage tax if the tax revenue is used to create more after school sports programs; making programs less expensive; providing adequate sports fields; allowing schools to provide healthier school meals, nutrition classes and cooking classes; and providing medical care for children with diabetes who can’t afford care.

Of course, if the experience of state education lottery revenues is any indication — and it should be — those investments will never appear. State education lottery funds tend to replace, not supplement, existing funds.

We think Richmonders will learn the truth that soda taxes are a thinly veiled cash grab, and then they’ll be rightly skeptical of the proponents’ promises.

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