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Looking for ways to sweeten the pot


Here’s a snippet from the U.S. election that might have escaped your attention amid bigger questions. Some U.S. cities had ballot questions on soft drinks, and whether or not there should be a sugar tax.

MacKenzie says he’ll be taking a look at everything he sells, including chocolate bars and chips, but said sugary drinks like fruit juices and vitamin water were first to go because of how widely parents — mistakenly thinking they’re healthy — give them to kids.

And even though the U.S. soft drink industry pushed back — the American Beverage Association (ABA) spent US$20 million fighting the proposals, according to Bloomberg — there is broad voter support for new taxes in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, Calif., and in Boulder, Col

Cook County, which includes Chicago, is looking at the same thing. Berkeley, Calif., and Philadelphia, Pa., already have such a tax.

The levy? Between one and two cents per ounce of sweetened, non-alcoholic drink.

It’s a concept worth thinking of – something along the lines of user-pay.

Why shouldn’t lumber and paper companies have to reforest the public lands they strip? Why shouldn’t fisheries companies pay a share of the costs of research and conservation of the stocks they depend on?

Why shouldn’t tobacco companies have to carry large tax burdens to at least try and offset the huge costs they add to our health-care system?

And why should the soft drink industry be treated any differently, especially in a region where obesity is clearly a public health issue?

Governments here, even when bringing in new taxes and fees across a broad spectrum of businesses and services, have shied away from a sugar levy.

Why? If it’s even on the radar, it’s largely felt the tax should be something taken on by the federal government.

The large U.S. cities might think the tax collection is not only doable, but something citizens would support so much that they’d vote to put the levies in place. (Berkeley’s already seen an interesting health side effect from their tax – a 20 per cent drop in soda sales in low-income neighbourhoods. The ABA disputes the accuracy of the study.)

That’s OK, though. Look at the P.E.I. government, which decided to fight near-sightedness (or something) by slapping a 15 per cent tax on books to address that known health scourge – reading. And there are similar taxes, depending on which province you live in.

Kidding aside though, it might actually be worth looking at the joint benefits of taxes on unhealthy foods – the money would be welcome, and pushing people towards healthier choices (traditionally more expensive than their unhealthy alternatives) could be an added bonus. It could be just the kind of stick that would lead a person to a carrot.

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