Commissioner Daines Urges New York's Legislature to do 'One Good Thing' in an Otherwise 'Miserable Budget Year'

By Adopting Sugary Beverage Tax, New York State Will Reduce Obesity, Lower Health Care Costs, and Provide Badly Needed Revenue to Health Care Industry and Obesity Prevention Efforts

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 8, 2010) – New York State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today urged the State Legislature to be a leader in reducing obesity by adopting a tax on sugary beverages included in the Executive Budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

"In the middle of very difficult economic and political circumstances, we have a golden opportunity to do one very good thing in New York State in an otherwise miserable budget year by adopting the tax on sugary beverages," said Commissioner Daines.

Speaking at a symposium on obesity in Albany, Dr. Daines, who is leading the effort to support the tax in New York State, said, "This is a fight, not a seminar. It's a battle against some of the most powerful vested interests that exist."

Noting that a preponderance of research has established that soda and other sugary beverages are the food group most strongly linked to rising rates of overweight and obesity, Dr. Daines criticized the beverage industry and its profiteers for promoting a campaign of misinformation and economic sleight-of-hand to ensure that the consumption of non-diet soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages remains high.

Dr. Daines detailed the efforts of the beverage industry to market cheap soda, especially in low-income and minority communities; manipulate pricing to promote greater consumption; rally opposition to government efforts to reduce consumption of sugary beverages; and blame the rise in childhood obesity on parents, while denying any link between obesity and non-diet soda consumption.

"Obesity rates have risen over three decades, tripling or more among children, and the situation is even worse among minorities and low-income families," Daines said. "The rise coincides with increased sugary beverage consumption, and we are now at the point where obesity has become the biggest public health challenge of this and the next few decades.

"The dramatic underpricing of sugar-sweetened beverages, their widespread availability, and the ceaseless marketing of these products constitute a stumbling block to good health and are a clear and present danger to the future of our children," Daines said. "Soda got way too cheap, and since it tastes good, isn't filling and is heavily marketed, we started drinking too much of it. The question now is, will we collectively have the courage to do one good thing – enact an excise tax on these beverages – to stem the tide of rising obesity?"

Daines cited recent comments made during a March 1 CNBC Squawk Box segment by billionaire investor Warren Buffet and beverage company executives, who cheered the double-digit sales rate of sodas in developing nations and dismissed New York's proposal to place a tax on sugary beverages. While soda stock booms and investors like Buffet -- who has $1.1 billion invested in Coca Cola -- reap the profits, more than 35 percent of children and 60 percent of adults are obese or overweight. Wall Street investors and beverage industry executives continue to grow richer while New Yorkers gain weight and taxpayers are forced to dish out $8 billion each year in health care costs for obesity-related care.

New York's proposed sugar-sweetened beverage excise tax would impose a one-cent per ounce levy on syrups, soft drinks and other beverages that contain more than 10 calories per eight ounces. The tax is projected to increase the prices of sugar-sweetened beverages by an average of 17 percent, while reducing consumption by up to 15 percent.

Daines noted that numerous experts, including former New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, now director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have concluded that a tax on sugary beverages is the single most effective measure that can be taken to reverse the obesity epidemic. Daines also cited data showing that over the past three decades the price of fresh fruits and vegetables has risen much faster than the Consumer Price Index (CPI), while the cost of carbonated sodas has remained low, in part due to a 23 percent federal government subsidy of corn syrup used to sweeten beverages.

"Much should be done to bring down the prices of healthy food choices, and we are trying to do that," Daines said. "But we also must address the underpricing of soda directly. Let's move beyond the forlorn hope that the free market will somehow correct for the overconsumption of a heavily subsidized product that is underpriced, tastes really good, is heavily marketed, and is highly profitable. Shareholder profits are soaring, while the health of our children is declining. That's good for investors, but it's not good public health policy."