Excess weight and obesity, fueled in part by our sugar-saturated diet, present serious risk of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, and contribute to rising medical costs.
In Richmond, an estimated 52 percent of children and 58 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Across Contra Costa, according to one study, excess weight and obesity drive up medical costs an estimated $400 million annually.
Thus, Richmond's soda tax on the Nov. 6 ballot might seem appealing. After all, taxes on tobacco products have helped tamp down smoking-related cancers. Taxes on sugary beverages could seem a logical extension as a way to combat weight-related illnesses.
But there's a big difference. Tobacco is often solely responsible for specific cancers. The link is direct. However, sugar is one of many contributors to obesity. And soda is just one form of sugar delivery. Once we start down the path of taxing soda, what else should be included? Butter? Hamburgers? Cheesecake? Snow cones? Donuts? It's a slippery slope.
That's the primary reason we oppose Measure N, the 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. As concerned as we are about obesity, especially among our youth, taxing beverages from sodas to energy drinks, from fruit drinks with high-fructose corn syrup to sweet teas, isn't the answer.
Excess weight and obesity cannot be curtailed with a tax -- and certainly not in just one city. The government role
Richmond's measure has another key problem: The city doesn't have the authority from the state to unilaterally impose a sales tax on soda when it's purchased. So, instead, the city has opted to tax the businesses that sell the products.
It's up to the businesses how they choose to pass on the extra cost. Some, fearing that they will drive up the prices of their sodas relative to competitors, might opt to spread the tax over all products, thereby undermining the goal of using prices to discourage soda consumption.
Finally, Richmond officials say they will spend the tax money to reduce obesity. But the state requires two-thirds voter approval for a tax when the revenues will go toward a specific purpose.
To get around that, so that Measure N requires only majority approval, the money will not be restricted. But Measure O, which is only advisory, would allow voters to express their preference that the money be spent on school sports programs and fields, healthier school meals, nutrition and cooking classes, medical care for low-income children with diabetes and prevention and treatment of diabetes and childhood obesity.
We often oppose ballot restrictions on government spending that tie lawmakers' hands. But in this case there would be a direct connection between the tax and the proposed spending. So, while we oppose the tax, we want to encourage spending the money as promised if it does become law.
Vote no on N, yes on O.