It is common to think of sales taxes, but these have several disadvantages. One is that consumers do not see the increased price on the shelf and the other is that it encourages consumers to buy large containers (because the cost per ounce is lower, the tax per ounce is lower). An excise tax of a penny per ounce would be better.
Polls show that consumer support for taxes varies, depending on how the issue is presented. Support can be as low as 37 percent if a "fat tax" or "obesity tax" is suggested in isolation. A recent poll in New York state found that 52 percent of consumers were in favor of a soda tax, but the number rose considerably -- to 72 percent -- if the revenue generated by the tax would be used for obesity prevention programs for children and adults.
The idea of taxing sugared beverages is highly controversial but is probably here to stay. The need for revenue and to control health care costs are just too pressing.
Kelly Brownell is director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. This article is based in part on an article written by Brownell with Dr. Thomas Frieden, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.