San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener has embarked on a crusade to levy a 24 cent tax on every can of soda in his city. Of course, Wiener has nothing on Bloomberg who tried to outright ban soda in NYC, but he's still managed to make liberals proud. As his top selling point, Wiener is recycling a familiar refrain: it's for the children.
The revenue raised from the tax is directed toward recreation, health, and nutrition programs in San Francisco public schools. He claims obesity is a public health issue which government has a responsibility to solve. San Francisco can certainly take steps to reduce obesity, but soda taxes are the wrong approach. ATR has previously noted that the connection between soda taxes and declining obesity rates is dubious at best. The two states with soda taxes, Arkansas and West Virginia, are among the 10 most obese states in the country.
Nanny-state liberals always think government knows best; in fact, this will probably be the name of the new health and nutrition text books in San Francisco. A 24 cent tax on soda has no guarantee of achieving its stated goal. There is little evidence to support Wiener's claims. This study from the Tax Foundation, found that taxing soda does not guarantee people will reduce their caloric intake. Further, soda consumption may not be the chief cause of obesity in an individual, so reducing consumption via excise tax will have little effect. A much more likely effect will be a loss of revenue to retailers, as San Francisco locals flee the city limits to buy their soda at cheaper prices.
For what it's worth, Wiener understands he's facing an uphill battle. Previous attempts to tax soda in nearby cities have been halted by voters. Wiener's plan explicitly links the revenue raised to the funding of nutrition plans. He hopes this will attract support, because "it's for the children." But San Francisco taxpayers are smarter than he thinks. They'll see through his thinly veiled attempts to grow government and fund the nanny state. Instead of imposing highly regressive sin taxes on soda,, let's teach children about personal responsibility and the power of consumer choice. Those are life lessons they can use.