Siena Poll Falls Flat on Soda Tax, Health Commissioner Says

Other Polls Show Voters Support Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax for Health Care Programs

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 22, 2010)- "Today's Siena College poll shows that New Yorkers won't support a tax unless they know what it's meant to accomplish and how the money will be used," State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., said today. "There is strong support for the sugar-sweetened beverage tax when respondents are told that the revenue will pay for obesity prevention and other health programs."

Commissioner Daines said the poll released today by the Siena Research Institute merely asked whether respondents supported or opposed "a new state tax on soda and other sugared beverages" as one of "a number of new proposals" in Governor Paterson's Executive Budget.

"Without context, poll questions lack significance," Dr. Daines said. In contrast, he cited last week's Quinnipiac University poll showing that 76 percent of New York City residents polled favored a tax on sugary soft drinks to balance the City budget. Similarly, a January 2010 poll of New York State voters conducted by Kiley & Co. for the Greater New York Hospital Association and 1199 SEIU found that 76 percent favor imposing the soda tax over cutting health care funding.

"Most people instinctively oppose raising taxes or imposing new taxes," Dr. Daines said. "However, when people were asked whether they favored a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – such as soda and sports drinks – and using the money to balance the budget or prevent health care cuts, three-quarters of the respondents favored the tax."

"Governor Paterson's proposal addresses three major issues facing the Legislature today," Dr. Daines said. "The sugary beverage tax will raise revenues that the Governor has dedicated to public health programs, including obesity. This prevents further cuts to health care at a time when the state has an $8.2 million deficit. And this will be a major boost to obesity prevention, by making diet drinks, low-fat milk, pure fruit juice and tap water more attractive choices financially and nutritionally. Lowering the percentage of overweight New Yorkers – now 60 percent of adults and 35 percent of children – will save on future health care costs. Obesity-related illness costs $7.6 billion a year, with most of that paid by taxpayer-supported health insurance programs."

The budget proposal exempts diet drinks, milk, and juice drinks containing 70 percent or more pure fruit juice from the proposed tax.