It's hard to believe - well, maybe not - that the Chicago-based American Medical Association (AMA) would be so out of touch with America's obesity epidemic that they are now proposing a soda tax to "fight obesity." We should ask ourselves, especially in light of the growing cigarette use in teens these days, how that approach has worked for cigarettes.
To think, even for a second, that a "penny-per-ounce" levy would "pare consumption of sugary drings 5% and therefore cut health costs by $17 billion" is nothing more than spin. I am aware of no study that has proven that taxes cause people to lose weight and keep it off. Nor have I seen any study that has proven that taxes save health care costs. (Please, if you know of even one, please send it to me.)
Even worse: I know it's the Chicago Way, but since when have doctors become a taxing authority?
Increasingly doctors, especially the paternalistically elite doctors, demonstrate they have no comprehension of the impact their taxes will have on America's poor. After all, who are the ones drinking the 44-ounce Super Big Gulp while they buy their groceries at 10 pm? Are they not the same people who are picking their kids up from daycare at 7 pm working service-oriented, hourly wage, poor-benefit jobs - or two even jobs - and are drinking those Big Gulps just to stay awake because the quality of life for the low-income American worker has deteriorated so significiantly? Has anyone ever considered that many of the people drinking these sugary drinks have very limited dollars and are drinking their lunches? How much does an organic lactose-free sugar free Kambucha Tea from Whole Foods cost?
If you care about what's happening to the People of Walmart, go in their neighborhoods, gas stations, and day care centers and get a real sense of how difficult life has become for this demographic. Get out of the John F. Kennedy School of Government and walk the streets and talk to the people. As yourself if changing human behavior really so simple as imposing a sales tax on goods.
But then again, what else should we expect from an medical organization based in the state with the highest sales tax in the US?
Update 26 Jun 2012:
The Official AMA policy that was ultimately adopted states the following:
"Our American Medical Association (AMA) recognizes the complexity of factors contributing to the obesity epidemic and the need for a multifaceted approach to reduce the prevalence of obesity and improve public health. A key component of such a multifaceted approach is improved consumer education on the adverse health effects of excessive consumption of beverages containing added sweeteners. Taxes on beverages with added sweeteners are one means by which consumer education campaigns and other obesity-related programs could be financed in a stepwise approach to addressing the obesity epidemic. (New HOD Policy)
2. Where taxes on beverages with added sweeteners are implemented, the revenue should be used primarily for programs to prevent and/or treat obesity and related conditions, such as educational ad campaigns and improved access to potable drinking water, particularly in schools and communities disproportionately effected by obesity and related conditions, as well as on research into population health outcomes that may be affected by such taxes. (New HOD Policy)
3. That our AMA advocate for continued research into the potentially adverse effects of long-term consumption of non-caloric sweeteners in beverages, particularly in children and adolescents. (Directive to Take Action)"
As ultimately passed, the policy and directive falls short of suggesting that taxes be imposed on soft drinks as I suggested. I regret the confusion that I may have caused. Still, I remain puzzled why taxes on soft drinks are even part of a "stepwise approach to addressing the obesity epidemic" when no data exist that demonstrate taxes on anything facilitate weight loss of any kind.