Stop the Pop

t has no real nutritional value, can be addictive and contributes to one of our nation’s biggest health problems. And the governor of New York wants to increase taxes on it to generate much-needed revenue and improve the health of his state.

What is it? Soda (or pop, if you grew up where I did).

An additional eighteen percent tax on non-diet soft drinks would cut consumption by an estimated five percent in the Empire State. Some have argued it’s an arbitrary and regressive tax, that unfairly penalizes companies that make the beverages and the people who buy them.

But it’s something Wisconsin lawmakers should seriously debate, after dismissing the idea during the last legislative session.

It doesn’t take a nutritional expert to figure out that drinking a case of regular Coke or Pepsi a day does nothing for your bottom line but add to it. In fact, I know several people who dropped a significant amount of weight after giving up a heavy soda habit.

We levy additional taxes on cigarettes, a practice the public has generally come to view as acceptable and that has played a role in reducing the number of smokers. So why not ask those who choose to take in hundreds of extra empty calories to pay a little more, too?

Wisconsin is no longer the fattest state in the nation—we lost the title a few years ago—but that’s hardly a victory in a country where more than one-third of adults are considered obese. Our collective weight problem comes with a big price tag in the form of higher health care costs, and it’s only going to get bigger if we don’t try something drastic.

It could go a long way to preventing our kids from picking up the habit, too. A study from Harvard Medical School reports that each additional can of soda a child drinks per day raises his or her risk of becoming obese by sixty percent.

So-called sin taxes are controversial—many argue they disproportionately affect the poor. But we’re not talking about a tax on things families truly need, like bread and milk. We’re talking about an item with no nutritional value, something even Cookie Monster would hesitate to call a “sometime food.”

Is it up to each of us to take care of ourselves and teach our children to make good choices? Absolutely. Do we need a little push to get there? Yes.

Jenny Price is a Madison native who covered the state Capitol for the Associated Press and has written about Wisconsin politics since 1999. E-mail her at