Anti Soda Social Engineering

soda-taxThe Canadian Press has a new story titled Is a sugary drink ban workable in Canada’s urban centres? A better question would be: Why do authoritarian busybodies want to remove our freedom? Let’s see what’s up:

The World Health Organization recommended a tax of at least 20 per cent on sugary drinks in a 2016 report.

I understand that obesity is a huge health issue and that sugary drinks are one cause of it. Here’s a question: Why is a UN body recommending taxation as the means to combat the problem? Taxes always turn into cash cows and serve to grow the government, which acts as a drag on the economy.

While Montreal’s city council has passed a motion looking to ban sugary drinks in municipal buildings, not all borough bosses believe it’s a workable measure.

How is this not workable? Seems simple to me.

Some veteran councillors who voted against it earlier this month won’t be drafting those types of rules for their own districts, saying they go beyond their competency as municipal politicians and would prove difficult to enforce.

If you can’t enforce rules in your own municipal buildings, you are incompetent indeed.

“I’m for prevention, I’m for an excise tax where it would help fund the health system like tobacco,” said Luis Miranda, mayor of the eastern Montreal borough of Anjou. “But to start patrolling what goes into my arenas, what goes into my parks in the summertime when there’s a baseball tournament, I don’t agree.”

Paraphrase: I want your money; I’m too lazy to ensure that none of my vendors sell sugary drinks.

Miranda said such restrictions would create problems for different groups —youth sports teams, for example, which often have sponsorships with drink companies.

You can ban drink sales without banning sponsorships. How does the city have the right to prevent a sports team from associating with any sponsor they want to?

Councillors from the borough of LaSalle also voted against the ban, with Mayor Manon Barbe saying she’d rather see education for citizens instead of having decisions imposed on them.

This is sensible. Bans don’t work. Example par excellence: The US prohibition of alcohol.

LaSalle introduced a health policy in 2008 that required 30 per cent of menu items in public buildings to reflect healthy choices, but nothing was banned.

This is sound, assuming that people don’t walk away entirely. But…

Snack bars in LaSalle’s two municipal arenas shuttered after operators said the menu requirements made them unprofitable.

It’s difficult to make money selling healthy food to people who are looking for a quick snack. You have some options:

  1. Loosen the policy to allow vendors to make a reasonable profit.
  2. Subsidize commercial vendors with public funds. I’d vote against someone who did this, because there’s too much potential for abuse by the vendors.
  3. Take over the concessions and have city employees run them. This is essentially subsidizing the concessions with public funds.
  4. Eliminate the concessions altogether.

They’ve since been replaced with vending machines that offer healthy alternatives as well as the usual fare.

Interesting. Vending machines allow the vendor reduce the overhead, but at the expense of removing any option for a hot meal, healthy or not.

The motion presented at Montreal council began as one that called on Ottawa to introduce a national excise tax on sugary drinks — something all Montreal councillors supported.

Of course they did. They want more money. Government wants to grow. It’s like cancer.

Several public health groups have also pushed the idea of an excise tax. In May, organizations including the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Childhood Obesity Foundation touted the “health and economic benefits of a sugary drink levy” after having commissioned a study by the University of Waterloo. Researchers at the University of Toronto also came out in favour of a tax on sugary drinks in Canada, among other measures, to improve eating habits.

If these groups are funded from the public trough, this makes sense too. Why do charities believe that taxation is the right way to attack the problem? Might it have something to do with the fact that they asked academics, who are largely dependent on government funding. Am I questioning the scientific integrity of the University of Waterloo and U of T? You bet I am.

But the Canadian Beverage Association has called the Montreal excise tax motion disappointing, noting that studies demonstrate the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverage calories has dropped by at least 30 per cent since 2004 without a tax, even as obesity rates have risen.

Interesting.

Barbe said the fact she and some colleagues voted against the motion doesn’t mean they’re against health initiatives — just that they believe it’s a job for the provincial and federal governments.

I applaud her for refusing to overregulate, but I completely disagree that this what the provincial and federal governments should do. Providing healthy alternatives and educating people on their benefits makes sense, and the market has been doing this (hence the drop in consumption of sugary drinks). Attempts by the government to control behavior are too easily turned into tax grabs, and they often have unintended side effects, as they did in Philadelphia:

Recent evidence points to the many ways in which food and drink taxes can cause unanticipated and entirely unpleasant side effects. Consider Philadelphia, which this past January imposed a tax of 1.5 cents (U.S.) per ounce on all sugary and diet soft drinks. It was the city council’s third attempt at such a policy. Earlier efforts tried to sell the proposal as a health-promotion tool and failed outright. Only when proponents claimed soda tax revenue was necessary to fund pre-kindergarten education did the idea gain political traction.

Because Philadelphia’s soda tax only applies within city limits, price-conscious consumers responded immediately by shifting all their grocery shopping to suburban stores unaffected by the tax. This spontaneous outbreak of cross-border shopping created a wave of detrimental side effects, says Philadelphia’s city controller, Alan Butkovitz, an elected official who acts as a fiscal watchdog at city hall. According to Butkovitz’s research, large supermarkets within the city limits suffered an average US$2.75-million drop in sales over the first six months of 2017, compared with the pre-tax era. And more than half of all city beverage retailers, including convenience stores and restaurants, reported sales declines of greater than 10 per cent due to the tax. Meanwhile, sales and foot traffic at suburban stores outside the tax boundaries have grown substantially.

Beyond the obvious and arbitrary impact this has on city store owners, the tax poses an even greater threat to those living in the city’s downtown core. If the large drop in sales continues, many inner-city supermarkets will be forced to close, cutting off access to healthy food options among low-income Philadelphians who lack the ability to shop at far-flung suburban stores. “This tax is impairing the ability of residents to get fresh fruit and vegetables,” says Butkovitz in an interview. He argues the tax could directly lead to the creation of “food deserts” in certain poverty-stricken neighbourhoods, meaning nutritious food is entirely unavailable.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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