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Soft-drink tax not the answer to health problems

Credit: Celia Ludwinski/Assistant Photo Editor Credit: Celia Ludwinski/Assistant Photo Editor
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Soda giants all over the country just might be in for a shock.

In New York City, health commissioner Thomas Frieden has set in his sights a dangerous target: placing a per-ounce tax on soda and sugar drinks under the guise of fighting the good fight against obesity. You thought things were getting expensive now? Just wait until Frieden’s proposed $3 tax per crate of soft drinks hypothetically takes effect. Soda drinkers might well find themselves in the same position as SUV owners did when gas prices skyrocketed.

Why the huge amount? The tax is deliberately high so as to discourage people from drinking soda, a move Frieden is taking to help propel America into a new era of health. Take this with a grain of salt — or rather don’t, since Frieden is pushing hard to get companies to remove salt from their products as well.

The soda tax, though, demands more attention. Frieden’s logic classes soda and sugared beverages in the same category as cigarettes: a luxury item proven to be dangerous to your health. The logic for the cigarettes is clearly that with enough monetary incentive not to buy them, consumers will either wean themselves off of them or will switch their spending habits, buying less of other items to compensate for the extra money they must spend due to the tax. Frieden hopes for the former.

However, while his intentions may seem good on the outset (yes, America and its population could stand to get a little healthier), Frieden’s plan is anything but beneficial.

When did it become the government’s job to police everything that its citizens do? People ought to have the freedom to choose how they want to live their lives, whether it’s healthily or unhealthily. While smoking has been proven to be bad for your health, people should still be allowed to do it, because it is their choice. Placing a tax on smoking is understandable, as there are proven consequences for making a habit of it. One can argue that drinking a lot of soda has its consequences as well. Then again, one can also argue that eating a lot of anything can have negative consequences.

However, Frieden’s push to pass the soda tax does beg the question: Are Americans these days so incapable of moderating their own diets that they need the government to come in and tell us how much is enough?

This seems like a lesson you learn in preschool. You need to tell yourself how much is enough, not ask someone else to do it for you.

Soda is not the leading cause of the obesity calamity in the United States. You can attribute that honor to any food that is overeaten. By itself, consuming large quantities of soda is not a health hazard. I offer as a counterexample the amazing John Mackey, professor of mathematics and known soda aficionado. Mackey, as his students can attest, drinks a legendary amount of soda, but remains in extremely good health due to his rigorous exercise schedule.

The bottom line is that people are not going to instantly start losing weight because of a soda tax, perhaps not even from quitting soda. Maintaining a healthy weight is about exercising and eating the correct portions of food, not making one class of foods anathema. While it seems silly that the government would be wasting its time over such an inefficient way of improving health, the fact that the soda tax has been proposed foretells, perhaps, something more sinister.

When our government seriously entertains the idea of limiting what we as citizens can and cannot do, it should be cause for alarm. If, say, Frieden, concerned about a rise in carpal tunnel cases, decided that a crochet or yarn tax was in order, everyone would laugh at it. It seems apparent that just as carpal tunnel doesn’t stem from one source, obesity, likewise, stems from many different causes. It also seems apparent that this proposal would limit personal freedom.

Why then are we allowing such ludicrous proposals to be considered? Putting an extra tax on soda not only will prove to be ineffective in the fight against obesity, but will also take away from the freedoms that generations of Americans have fought so hard to protect.

We are a country that believes in doing what we want to do, having the freedom to make our own choices, and having the integrity to face the consequences of our actions. It seems like detracting from those beliefs with something as petty as a soda tax is a far cry from the direction we want to be moving.

Frieden is correct that the health of America as a whole is in a sorry state. His campaign to get fast food restaurants to post the nutritional facts for their menu items is something that I laud. People should have as much knowledge as they can before making a choice. However, there is a difference between making information that was not as apparent clearer and forcing people to think or act a certain way. Frieden’s work with getting the nutritional facts in easy-to-spot places allows the consumer to make a choice, which is an infinitely better solution than steering them toward one and only one option.