by Neil Ruud
When my friend asked me the other day, “You’re asking for an increase in the tax? how much are they currently being taxed?” I laughed and told him there wasn’t a tax yet but, upon further reflection, we are already paying extra for our sugary drinks. Those hidden costs come in the form of increasing medical expenses and lost opportunities. We tax alcohol and other goods that can cause significant public harm, why not sugary drinks?
Sugary drinks aren’t just “not good” for you, they are detrimental to our health. As more and more research shows that a “calorie in” is not the same as a “calorie out,” it becomes increasingly obvious that sugary drinks, while not the sole cause, are an exceptional contributor to a number of wide-spread diseases: sugary drinks make up half of the added sugar we consume day-to-day. The sucrose in that sugar can lead to diabetes and the fructose to fatty liver disease. There are children who have livers that look like they’ve been drinking whiskey every day instead of soda and one-quarter of teens have developed type 2 diabetes or are well on their way with prediabetes.
The damages done by sugary drink consumption cannot be “worked off,” they can only be treated with insulin injections and liver transplants. Diabetes is one of the leading healthcare costs in the United States and fatty liver disease is increasingly costly as well. Selfishly, I don’t want to pay for the increased healthcare costs our society is looking at and businesses shouldn’t want to pay them either. More importantly, I believe that wealthy sugary drink corporations should pay something to mitigate the negative impacts of their products– especially as the diabetes rate has exploded over the last three decades.
Local businesses recognize this problem. I’ve spoken with a number of groups, individuals, and organizations in town who agree that something needs to be done about the alarming rates of diabetes and fatty liver disease– especially in children. As they’ve shared their concerns with me one thing is clear: we must avoid an unfair administrative burden on our local businesses. We can make sure the tax rightfully targets the irresponsible actors by exempting small businesses who don’t purchase enough sugary drinks to warrant working with large distributors.
Mexico’s peso-per-litre tax led to a 12% decrease in consumption. Berkeley’s cent-per-oz tax has funded school nutrition programs including a gardening and cooking program. What’s more Yolo County than that?
A cent-per-ounce distributor tax with an exemption for small businesses is the right way to address the burdens we all share at the profit of the soda industry. Then, to address the concerns members of our community have expressed regarding how this money might be spent, the ordinance should require that the Recreation and Parks Commission and Social Services Commission review the income and advise the City Council on how to spend it, whether it goes to fixing Rainbow City, maintaining our bike paths, or funding better nutritional programs for our children.
Regardless, this is not just about raising revenue for our community, it’s about taking a stand for the health of our children and our community that will empower other communities in our region and around the world to do the same. Just this last week, the World Health Organization called for taxes on sugary drinks citing the unique health risks they pose to children and the success in Mexico.
I hope you join me, my neighbors, and many local and global organizations in asking the City Council to place a sugary drink tax on the ballot this June. Don’t let the sugary drink industry censor this conversation with ad buys and large political expenditures. Let Davis decide.
The need for leadership on this issue has never been greater. With momentum building around the world and no substantive progress at the state or national level, we must confront this issue ourselves and pave the way for other communities. After all, progress comes in small bites– not big gulps.
Neil Ruud is a Davis Resident. The Davis City Council is considering a sugary drink tax, among other potential June revenue measures, tonight at the city council meeting.