Bloomberg bankrolls sugary drink tax campaign amid backlash

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has thrown his financial weight behind Cook County's sugary drink tax with a $2 million ad campaign.

The ad campaign, which started rolling out online last week, aims at shoring up the penny-per-ounce tax that was introduced Aug. 2 and is facing considerable push back from store owners, consumers and policy analysts.

Daren Bakst, a research fellow at the Washington-based conservative Heritage Foundation, said taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the most egregious examples of the “food police.”  

"These taxes show an incredible amount of arrogance from those who believe they know what other people should eat and drink," Bakst told Illinois Business Daily. "Worse, proponents show a complete disregard for individual freedom; after all, what is more basic than deciding what to eat?"

Bakst described the intention to drive up the price of food and drinks as "bad enough," but, he argued, it also has a disproportionate impact on the poor.

"Low-income households spend a greater share of their after-tax income on food purchases as compared to households with higher incomes," Bakst said. "Further, those at lower incomes tend to drink these sugar-sweetened beverages more than those at higher incomes."

The tax shows no recognition of the complexity of personal diets, Bakst said.

"An individual may drink these beverages but have a much healthier diet than someone else," he added. "For example, one person might eat healthy and on occasion drink some sugar-sweetened beverages while another person regularly eats poorly but doesn’t drink such beverages.  

"Further, these beverages are just a small percentage of an individual’s diet; if politicians impose a high enough tax then of course they can reduce consumption of the taxed items, but this doesn’t mean they have accomplished anything in connection with overall diets," Bakst said.

The tax has all these problems, and even covers diet soda, Bakst said.

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