As noted yesterday in When Costs Rise, Sales of Unhealthful Foods Drop, so-called sin taxes on unhealthful foods may help stem America’s obesity and diabetes epidemics.

Facing critical budget deficits, some city and state legislators are embracing the idea. Earlier this month, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter proposed a tax on soda purchases, while Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter last month signed a bill to tax candy and soda.

“State-level taxes exist on soda sold in grocery stores and vending machines in 34 and 39 states, respectively, and the mean taxes, currently applied for revenue generation, range from 3% to 4%,” write San Francisco Department of Public Health officials Mitchell H. Katz, MD, and Rajiv Bhatia, MD, in an editorial published in Monday’s edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.

But there’s not much evidence to support a link between such modest surcharges and changes in consumer behavior, they note.

“More substantial surcharges may decrease the consumption of sweetened beverages and, equally important, increase the consumption of more healthful alternatives,” write Drs. Katz and Bhatia.

The revenues cities and states collect “could be used to increase awareness about the harm of sugar-sweetened beverages and fund structural interventions, such as creating water stations in schools,” they add. “Copying a successful tactic of anti-tobacco crusaders, the funds also could be used to counter the lavish advertising of soda and junk food or for ‘marketing’ ordinary tap water.

“In the end,” they conclude, “putting our money where our mouth is means aligning our economic incentives so that we always serve up the healthful choice.”  

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