The Mexican Soda Tax
The soda tax didn’t fly in Albany, but it’s found new life in Mexico City. On Thursday the lower house of Mexico’s Congress approved new taxes on sugary beverages and high-calorie foods as part of a broader reform plan proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto. If the proposal passes the Senate, the government will levy a 1 peso (8 cent) per liter tax on sugary beverages such as soft drinks, and a 5 percent tax on packaged foods that contain 275 calories or more per 100 grams.
Mexico had an intense public debate about the soda tax, which the soft-drink industry dubbed “the Bloomberg tax” because the New York mayor spent some of his personal fortune to support it. The beverage industry took out full-page newspaper ads to fight the proposal. But Mexican lawmakers went ahead and voted for the tax because they were concerned about the country’s significant obesity problem. More than 32 percent of its population is obese and nearly 70 percent are obese or overweight, according to the World Health Organization. Diabetes and heart disease are the top two causes of deaths among adults.
Using taxes as a tool to fight obesity is an old idea in the public health community. Some health experts have argued that just as tobacco taxes helped reduce the prevalence of smoking, levies on sugary drinks and high-calorie foods should help cut down on their consumption.
The editorial board has previously supported levying taxes on sodas and other sweetened beverages, but efforts by former New York Gov. David Patterson and others failed thanks in large part to opposition from beverage companies.
Critics say that such taxes will do little to reduce obesity while placing a disproportionate burden on the poor. There is no question that taxes on their own are not sufficient to deal with a problem as complex as obesity. Governments also need to make sure that their people, especially children, have access to healthier options (like clean water, for instance).
But it’s just as true that if designed well, taxes can help improve the health of the poor, who tend to have higher rates of obesity and are less able to afford treatment for diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
It is not clear if Mexico’s proposed taxes will make a significant difference. Many advocates had pushed for a 2-peso per-liter tax on sugary drinks and also wanted the money to go to building water fountains in schools and other public spaces, ideas that did not make it into the legislation adopted by the lower house. But at least the country is starting to tackle this urgent health issue.
(From The New York Times)