Health Officials Defend Soda Tax, May "Look At" Pizza, Cheeseburgers

Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services Joe Baker and State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines held a press conference this afternoon to discuss the Governor's proposed 18 percent "obesity" tax on non-diet soda and fruit "drinks" containing less than 70 percent real fruit juice.

Though other jurisdictions have floated soda taxes on health grounds, New York's proposal is naturally higher profile, and has already kicked up a bit of a ruckus. The American Beverage Association has called it "purely a money grab" and said the state can't say that soda presents a unique obesity risk versus other foods not bearing a similar sin tax. Even liberal bloggers are questioning the logic of a tax that seems to reward the ingestion of lo-cal artificial sweeteners.

We, alas, missed their opening presentation, and the phone connection was lousy, but Baker and Daines did make some interesting statements in the Q&A.

Daines and Baker said they found the tax attractive "for public health reasons and because it raises revenue." Their goal is to reduce consumption of the taxed beverages by 5 percent, a "conservative" goal given the steep tax rate. Though they couldn't, as the Beverage Association charged, quantify the role of sweetened soda in obesity, they portrayed the reach of sweet soda as sufficiently pervasive to warrant the sin tax treatment. "People don't realize how many caloires they're ingesting" with soda, they said. "They say, 'Oh, it's just a drink.'"

We asked Dr. Daines whether he had a policy or philosophical problem with taxing other high-calorie foodstuffs -- we specifically mentioned cheeseburgers, pizza, and snack foods -- should the economic need arise.

"Generally speaking, we would look at other types of food, other types of beverages," he replied, adding that the state would prefer to try labeling and other educational methods first.

You can has cheezburger? In the future, maybe only if you can pay the vig.

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