Soda Tax Not a Sweet Sell in Massachusetts

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Source: ThinkProgress – Health

Boston is known for being an expensive place, but one of the few benefits of living in Massachusetts is the sales tax exemption for “essential items” such as food, clothing, heating, and prescription drugs. This exemption, however, extends to all purchased foods – including soft drinks and candy, which can hardly be categorized as “essential”.

With the specter of childhood obesity looming – nearly 30% of 10-17 year olds in Massachusetts are overweight or obese – there has recently been a call to action to re-institute the sales tax, specifically for sugary beverages. This movement is being spearheaded by the Healthy People, Healthy Economy coalition, a collection of local businesses, state public health officials, philanthropic organizations, and healthcare providers focused on introducing initiatives that will improve health outcomes in the state.

A bill was introduced in the summer session of the Massachusetts Legislature, but died as the session came to a close at the end of July. As expected, The American Beverage Association has been vigorously fighting the tax, arguing that taxes targeted specifically at sodas are unfair and unpopular. In an extremely political year, lawmakers are also balking at the idea of being seen as raising or re-introducing taxes. Despite pleas from leading healthcare providers, the Speaker of the Massachusetts House was wary of the bill and it ultimately did not garner sufficient support.

With increasing evidence that taxing sugar-sweetened beverages has an impact on decreasing childhood obesity, the proposal in Massachusetts warrants another look in this next legislative session.

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3 Responses to “Soda Tax Not a Sweet Sell in Massachusetts”

  1. amandacrosbysorensen Says:

    In Seattle, where I live, a bill proposing the tax of soda and candy was brought to vote last year and failed as well. Many of us in Seattle were shocked, as most of the public seemed to support the bill. Such a simple way to raise revenue in a nearly-broke state and more importantly, to reduce access to the sugary beverages and snacks contributing so significantly to the obesity plague! The bill failed to reappear this year, and I agree, political popularity is not likely to be improved with proposing new taxes in an election year. I wonder how much of a role the candy and soda companies have in preventing the bill’s reappearance as well. Their investment, power, and impact seem likely to be VERY high to me.

  2. ellenmarieanderson Says:

    In Oregon, Multnomah county, we will be introducing a 1% soda tax this November. Taxing non-essential and potentially harmful foods seems like a step in the right direction, but we will need to follow up with a campaign to make consuming large quantities of soda uncool if we want to stop the long held habits of our county. The model used in California to essentially eliminate littering was driven by social marketing that moved to apply shame to the common activity of pitching garbage out your car window. We need to apply shame to companies who promote large quantity soda consumption (it started with 7-11) and the public will begin to feel like it is wrong to purchase liters of soda and to purchase giant cups of soda at fast food restaurants. Hopefully, the Massachusetts tax initiative will raise awareness of the issue.

  3. ekane3 Says:

    This is a great topic that is really on the front of many Americans’ minds. I am perpetually dismayed at how little traction the soda taxes are able to gain in municipal and state legislatures. I wasn’t around during the early days of Big Tobacco versus Public Health, but often wonder if we are heading down a similar path of corporate denial with foods/beverages that cause obesity. Perhaps we, as public health professionals, can improve upon some of the strategies from that battle and implement them in this fight.

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