“Sales taxes were intentionally kept small so they wouldn’t affect consumption,” said Brownell, a long-time advocate of a bigger tax that would make consumers think twice about that sugary drink.
For several years, Brownell and his colleagues have pushed for a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sweetened beverages (not just soda). That would ultimately boost the cost of sweet drinks by about 20 percent. And unlike sales taxes, which consumers do not see until they get to the cash register, excise taxes show up on the sticker price — when people are making the decision to buy or not.
In a 2011 study, Brownell’s team estimated that a national penny-per-ounce tax would cut Americans’ sugary drink intake by one-quarter. The researchers also projected that the tax could generate $79 billion in revenue over five years.
A number of states and local governments have proposed such a tax, but they’ve gone nowhere.
The proposals have popped up in states like Vermont and Texas, big cities like New York and Philadelphia, and in smaller communities. Last year, voters in two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, rejected ballot initiatives that would have levied sugary-drink taxes.
The respondents in the Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll echoed those voters. Besides disliking the taxes, many doubted the potential health benefits — 51 percent disagreed with the statement, “Sales taxes on candies and sodas would help to reduce obesity.” Only 26 percent agreed.
A bigger percentage seemed to have a philosophical opposition to such taxes: Two-thirds agreed with the statement, “It should not be the role of government to influence what we eat and drink to make healthier choices.”