The industry contributing to the country’s rampant obesity is continuing one of the most dishonest and patently absurd advertising campaigns in recent history. Launched this summer, the campaign is airing two new commercials this month.
In one of the spots, a fit, middle-class “mom” drives by a home with a foreclosure sign and then a storefront with an out-of-business sign (Get it? Times are tough!) before arriving at her middle class home, unloading her kids (who may be on the verge of being overweight) and groceries, which include a very visible, large soda pop bottle.
“Families around here are counting pennies to get through this economy, so when we hear about another tax, it gets our attention,” says the actress portraying mom.
“Washington is talking about a new tax on juice drinks and sodas; they say it’s only pennies, but those pennies add up when you’re trying to feed a family.”
The final line is, “Tell Congress, no taxes on juice drinks and sodas.”
Another spot says, “Congress shouldn’t be adding taxes to the simple pleasures we enjoy, like juice drinks and soda.”
It’d be interesting to identify that point in time at which beverages loaded up with sugar became a necessity for survival. When I was a child, a nickel Coke from the drug store fountain was a rare afternoon treat — and it was probably all of six ounces. The producers of these questionable communications should be embarrassed by the insinuation that the Big Gulp is a necessary staple in the family food budget.
Additionally, when did drinking sugar-laden beverages move up the chart to status as beloved American pleasure?
The spots are “Paid for by Americans Against Food Taxes.” Apparently we’re supposed to believe this is some grassroots movement of concerned parents who won’t be able to afford Coke or Pepsi and juice boxes — when maybe an actual apple would be cheaper and healthier. If ever there were communications that have the hand of corporate America and the stink of corporate greed, these are them.
Looking beyond the attribution on the commercials, we find that behind the grassroots façade are Burger King, the California Grocers Association, Canada Dry, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Domino’s Pizza, Jack in the Box, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Red Bull, 7-Eleven, Welch’s and Yum! Brands, along with an assortment of beverage associations, vendors and packagers. Curiously, numerous Hispanic organizations too. I’m speculating that the thousands of individuals signed up for this “cause,” as per the claims of the Web site, are the employees of these organizations, as well as a few nut jobs who think taxing sugary drinks with no nutritional value somehow infringes on their rights to live as they want. No one wants to take away your soda; you may just have to pay more for it. Folks, it’s been done with alcohol and cigarettes, so we’ve got precedent. Fundamentally, there’s really no difference in taxing liquid sugar — abusing it generates significant health problems, just as cigarettes do.
Too many of us are fat, which increases health care costs to treat the resultant diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related problems. It’s estimated that a one-cent tax per sugary drink ounce would generate $14.9 billion in the first year. That could make a dent in a level of basic health care coverage and preventative health efforts.
Of course if we listen to lobbyists such as Kevin Keane of the American Beverage Association, “It wouldn’t even make a dent in addressing the health care challenge or the obesity challenge.” In other words, the American Beverage Association prefers hooking its consumers on sugar and laying the foundation for disease early with youth. (Through a tax, there might be a potential drop in soda pop sales which might make a dent too in the compensation of CEOs like Coca-Cola’s Muhtar Kent, who last year earned nearly $20 million as a sugar pusher.)
Let’s err on the side of potential positives and go with recent findings in the “New England Journal of Medicine.” Besides raising revenues, the study said, a beverage tax might lower soda and sugary drink consumption enough to generate a small weight loss and reduced health risks among many Americans.
Maria Fotopoulos is a communications consultant and writer in Los Angeles. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.