I heard a radio advertisement the other day that had me very confused until the end. Two construction-type workers were speaking in a definite South Philly kind of manner. Right away, I knew I was supposed to think these were hard-working average guys. They were making a list of what their co-workers wanted from the convenience store. The entire list was beverages like fountain sodas and iced-teas — several per person. All I could think of when I was listening was that I would never want these guys working on my house. They’d never get any work done; they’d be in the bathroom the entire time.

It wasn’t until the end of the ad when one of the workers said, “I’ll pay this time. You can pay next time.” that I started to catch on. The workers started talking about how it will be more expensive next time if the city gets to tax their drink choices. I realized what the commercial was about — the proposed soft drink tax in Philadelphia.

Then I laughed because it was such a stupid commercial. These construction workers are buying several soft drinks a day from a convenience store — where the prices for those drinks are higher than the grocery store — and they’re worried about a couple more cents per beverage? If a couple of cents was important to them, they’d be buying their beverages in bulk from a big box store. The ad was a ridiculous argument against the tax.

Slate’s The Big Money pointed me to a television ad today that is similarly ridiculous.

I have lots of thoughts about the video, but let's get the snarkiest one out of the way first. “Hey lady, you see that single bottle of soda in that plastic bag your kid is carrying? You know, the kid that’s a boy when you hand the bag to him, but a girl when she walks away with it (bad editing). If you had used a reusable bag for that one bottle of soda, your grocery store would have most likely given you anywhere from two to four cents, off-setting the cost of that tax. If you’re so concerned about those pennies adding up, take your own bags.” Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. (When I yell things like that at my computer at home, it kind of scares my kids.)

Okay, enough with the snark. Here’s the real problem with both the video and the radio commercial I heard. They try to make people feel like they won’t be able to afford these all-important, I-have-an-absolute-right-to-them, sugary soft drinks. But, like the Slate piece points out, if money is that big of an issue, “maybe the first thing you should do is stop buying soda pop and sugar-laden juice.” The affordability of these drinks is not what should have people concerned.

The real problem I see with the soda tax, aka sin tax, aka sugar tax, is not that it’s going to make these beverages unaffordable for regular people, even people on a tight budget. I don’t believe that soda taxes will put a dent in most people’s sugary beverage consumption or help the obesity problem in our country. The real problem is that soda taxes are arbitrary, and they open up the door for other things to be taxed under the guise of health to raise money when the coffers are low.

Sure, you can argue that cigarette taxes actually opened the door to this issue, but cigarettes aren’t food. (I know soda doesn’t actually resemble food, either, but that’s what it is considered). The problem is we don’t know where will it stop. Will a chip tax be next? How about a chocolate chip tax? What about a peanut butter tax? Peanut butter is very high in fat. That can’t be good, right?

It seems to me that this tax is a money-making scheme shrouded in a cloak of concern for our health, particularly our children’s health. It’s not how we should be addressing our nation’s obesity problems or its money problems. 

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