Politics & Policy

The Troubling Soda-Tax Trend

Stocking shelves in Alexandria, Va., in 2012. (Reuters photo: Kevin Lamarque)
Seattle joins the list of cities trying to control people’s behavior through sin taxes — and killing jobs in the process.

Taxes are rising, and freedom is being depleted as another American city tries to control what its residents put in their bodies.

On Monday, June 5, the Seattle City Council approved a 1.75-cent-per-ounce tax on soda. This equates to $1.18 added to the cost of a two-liter bottle and $2.52 added for a twelve-pack. 

Before the vote, small-business owners flocked into the council meeting to caution them on the consequences of an increase. It is “a business killer,” one business owner put it. “I think after this tax, my store is going to be closed,” said another, adding that his expenses had already doubled in the past nine years because of taxes and a minimum-wage increase to $15 per hour.

The council, however, justified the tax by explaining the health effects of drinking soda. Councilman Tim Burgess explained that children who drink soda daily are more likely to have future health problems, such as diabetes and obesity. This, he argued, justifies a tax that will decrease soda consumption.

Not everyone agrees.

These taxes are being used as a “behavior modification hammer,” Jami Lund told me.

Lund, a senior policy analyst for the Freedom Foundation, a Washington-based free-market think tank, said that the city council is “intentionally suppressing economic activity.” They know this will lead to “fewer jobs” and “fewer sales,” but they are willing to justify this because they want to control behavior, he said.

If Seattle’s soda tax has the same effect that Philadelphia’s soda tax had, Lund will be proven correct. Philadelphia’s 1.5-cent-per-ounce soda tax went into effect earlier this year and has already “depressed sales, increased prices, and destroyed jobs,” Bob Dick, a senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based free-market think tank, told me.

Since the tax increase, Coca-Cola eliminated about 40 positions in Philadelphia, while Pepsi laid off about 100 workers at its distribution centers in the city. ShopRite said it would have to lay off 300 Philadelphia workers, while one of the city’s largest distributors said it would have to eliminate 30 percent of its work force. They all blamed the tax increase for the job losses, which is causing a 30 to 50 percent drop in their sales.

Since the soda-tax increase in Philadelphia, Coca-Cola has eliminated about 40 positions there, Pepsi laid off about 100, ShopRite said it would have to lay off 300, and one of the city’s largest distributors said it would have to eliminate 30 percent of its work force.

Dick predicts that Seattle will “absolutely” see similar results, especially because the city implemented a higher tax than Philadelphia did. “Plus,” he added, “the tax comes at a time when small-business owners are dealing with the consequences of recent minimum-wage increases.”

Aside from the question of how “sin taxes” affect the economy, Dick argues that behavior-controlling taxes are a bad idea because “it’s not the responsibility of government to manage our dietary choices.”

Lund expressed similar concern, noting that this type of tax has become a trend. Along with Philadelphia and Seattle, Berkeley has passed a soda tax, at one cent per ounce. San Francisco, Boulder, Colo., and Cook County, Ill. (which includes Chicago), all have plans to implement similar soda taxes. New York also made headlines when the city tried to ban large sodas a few years ago.

The Founding Fathers would be “offended” by government officials using their power to tax for the purpose of “micromanaging” people’s lives, Lund said. Government officials believe that soda is bad, but they “don’t have the nerve to say that soda should be illegal,” he added.

I asked the Seattle’s mayor’s office for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Editor’s note: This article has been emended since it first appeared.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More