Recently I read the editorial in my local newspaper lamenting the obesity rate of children and the health problems related to obesity. The next day that same newspaper reported that the city of Richmond is placing an initiative on the ballot to tax soda one penny per ounce.
In simple terms -- a 12-ounce can of soda will carry a fat tax of 12 cents, which is considerably higher than, and in addition to the current California sales tax of 8.75 percent. Thus, a single can of soda priced at $1 would have a sales tax of 9 cents plus a fat tax of 12 cents for a total cost of $1.21. Outrageous!
For the record, I have no connection to the food industry, and I have had no communication with any other party in opposition to the soda tax.
In my opinion, it seems that many well-meaning citizens have accepted this insidious idea that a tax on soda will solve the problem of childhood obesity.
The people behind the Richmond initiative cloak themselves with a gospel of "protecting children's heath." After all, who could possibly be opposed to healthy children?
One needs to look much deeper than a simple 1-cent-per-ounce tax on soda to solve the problem of childhood obesity.
The text of the initiative states that the additional general fund source may be used for any purpose, including programs designed to prevent childhood obesity.
Then they throw in the "sweetener" by offering the "nonbinding advisory question" asking voters to approve the idea of using the funds to promote healthy eating and promoting sports among Richmond youth.
This is a cynical attempt at diverting attention to a mom-and-apple-pie issue and away from their political intent. This proposal is wide open to abuse. It is obvious that the backers of this initiative will reserve some portion of the revenue generated for a public education campaign, which really means a new political action committee.
The special-interest groups behind the soda-tax initiative will find a way to place themselves or their allies in control of the funds for "public education." Eventually, when the tax on soda does not solve the problem of childhood obesity, and we all know it will not, the next soft target will likely be snack foods. Again, the problem will not be solved.
By this time, the political action committee will be flush with millions of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars from the snack food and soda taxes, and they will have the financial power to go after their real enemy -- the fast-food industry.
Unfortunately, this fight is not about a simple tax on soda or even overweight children -- it is about the money and the control of our behavior championed by those who think, "We know what is best for you."
The "behavior lobbyists" will never give up. They are true believers that we need them to protect us from ourselves. Ultimately, when all the taxes and political campaigns to control our eating habits fail, I anticipate that they will move to require a license to purchase "unapproved" foods.
I have a dark vision of a future where each of us will be required to get a license, similar to a driver's license, to be allowed to purchase any unapproved product, such as liquor, tobacco, soda, potato chips, hamburgers and hot dogs. All you need do is to look at the history of taxes and regulation over the past 50 years. Apply modern technology to the equation, and you have a future that would have frightened even George Orwell.
I implore the citizens of Richmond:
There have always been and there always will be overweight children -- adults, too! The decision to change one's physical dimensions should belong to the individual, and for children, with the parents.
The problem of obesity is not just one of too much intake of unhealthy foods. The problem is multidimensional. Lack of exercise is probably more responsible for overweight children than any other factor.
Technology, while wonderful, has its downside. Children watch TV and play video games and interact on cellphones to a greater degree than we old-timers could even imagine.
Gone are the days of riding bikes for hours, exploring every nook and cranny of one's neighborhood. Gone are the days of going out to play and coming home by dark, in time for supper.
I am 63 years old, and I have consumed a Pepsi, a Coke or a 7-Up every day of my life since I was 15. If Coca-Cola made you fat, I would weigh 300 pounds. I am not overweight, nor do I have diabetes, high blood pressure or any other serious health condition.
What I do have is a history of physical activity that continues to this day.
Yes, you can suffer negative health consequences by consuming any food in excess in conjunction with poor eating habits and a lack of exercise.
I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer for childhood obesity, but I do believe that taxing the citizenry into good eating habits will not work.
The problem and the solution to childhood obesity lie with parents, not new taxes.
Larry Goltz is a resident of Livermore.