Should Massachusetts Implement a Soda Tax?

Since the summer of 2016, soda tax bills have been popping up around the country; first in Philadelphia and later in Chicago and San Francisco that November. This has led to the recent debate on whether or not the state of Massachusetts should implement a soda tax. While it’s no secret that soda is unhealthy and many may feel it is good to tax the product because it is unnecessary to a healthy diet, there are those on both sides of the argument.

A tentative hearing was scheduled on June 20th and while we may not know the outcome or plan our state government has for the tax, we do know what the bill would change. Should the policy be put in effect, the taxation of a beverage would be based upon it’s sugar content per 12 ounces. For example, a drink with five to 20 grams of sugar would be taxed one cent per ounce while a drink with more than 20 grams of sugar would be taxed two cents per ounce. To put this in perspective, a 12- ounce can of Pepsi that contains 41 grams of sugar, would be charged an extra $0.24.

State Senator Jason Lewis, one of sponsors of the policy says, “The goal of this legislation is to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks replacing it with water and other healthier beverage choices, particularly among children and teenagers.” Those in favor of the tax argue that many families and children in Massachusetts are suffering from chronic illnesses like Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, tooth decay, and strokes. It is believed that the largest source of added sugar in American diets comes from sugary drinks and supporters feel that the tax would cut down on consumption of sugar and lessen the impact of those illnesses.

The director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center, Caroline Apovian, feels we should regulate soda and sugary beverages the same way we do alcohol saying, “We regulate alcohol. We do not sell alcohol to children. We tax it and you can’t drink while you are working.” Apovian further states that it’s possible to overeat by drinking sugary beverages since “there is absolutely no nutritional value to sugar-sweetened beverages whatsoever. Your brain doesn’t register those calories, because it’s liquid.” That being said, the CDC claims that about half of the American population consumes at least one sugary beverage per day.

On the other side of the argument however, Governor Charlie Baker said that the bill would have a negative effect on low- income families stating, “I don’t think we should be raising taxes and I’ve said that before, especially not a tax that basically hits low-income people a lot harder than it hits everybody else.” In agreement with Governor Baker, representatives from the Massachusetts Beverage Association say that the tax could threaten jobs and hurt local businessmen and that there are better ways to fund programs important to our communities.

Despite whatever side you may be on, it is important to recognize the impact sugary drinks have on our diets. While those not in favor of the tax claim it could harm people moneywise, it is no secret that the tax could help healthwise. Should the policy go through, Massachusetts will be the first state with this type of bill in effect. And should the policy not go through, we can continue to help our local community ourselves by raising awareness, encouraging healthy alternatives, and making and sharing good food.