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Editorial: Another sin tax on soda wrong way to fight fat

Updated: June 4, 2012 11:38AM

Chicago and the nation can do better than a pop tax.

The impulse by aldermen to consider such a tax on sugary drinks is dead on — no one can argue that the nation isn’t facing an obesity epidemic, nor can they argue that the American diet doesn’t need an overhaul.

But a big tax on sugary drinks isn’t the answer.

That’s a nanny-state solution, one that says government must protect us from ourselves, one that doesn’t harness the power of everyday Americans to solve this problem for themselves.

A more enduring solution is one that comes from the bottom up, from Chicagoans changing their own behavior, from Chicagoans demanding beverage companies sell us less junk.

On Tuesday, the City Council Health Committee, led by Ald. George Cardenas (12th), held a hearing to weigh the pros and cons of imposing a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on pop and energy drinks. Thirty-three states already impose a sales tax on pop, including a 6.25 percent tax in Illinois. On top of that, Chicago adds another 3 percent. Advocates say these taxes are too small to affect consumption, and they are pushing for a significantly larger tax in Chicago and states across the nation.

As a follow-up to Tuesday’s hearing, Cardenas plans to bring the supporters of the tax — led by public health advocates — and opponents — led by the beverage industry and the workers who deliver pop — together to work on solutions.

Solutions other than a pop tax, Cardenas’ office told us.

His goal, which we strongly support, is to raise awareness of the link between obesity and excessive drinking of sugary beverages and to find ways to help us help ourselves. Those solutions include public education on healthy eating and public pressure on the beverage industry to limit the temptations.

That strategy is beginning to work in the fast-food industry, where healthy food options are now de rigueur, and in the beverage industry, where pop has mostly been removed from schools and the major companies are offering smaller servings and lower calorie options.

If we want the industry to go farther, it’s on us, not the government, to force the change.

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