Soda with a Red Bullseye

You’ve heard of the War on Drugs. The War on Terror. The War on Poverty. Well, get ready for the War on Pop (not music. For those of you outside the Heartland, I mean “Soda”). A serious controversy is starting to, er, bubble up. Warning labels are being proposed, taxes discussed, and food stamp recipients potentially turned away. All in an attempt to get Americans to stop pouring so much sugar down their gullets.

Most recently, the consumer advocacy group CSPI made a call for warning labels to be added to soda cans, citing overwhelming studies that show soda contributes to obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and overall diminished health.

This follows attempts in multiple states to levy a tax on sweetened beverages.  No surprise, soft drink companies are fighting back. Bloomberg reports that in Kansas, where legislators briefly considered adding a tax on soda, corporate lobbyists spent nearly $1.5 million, a 20 percent jump from a year ago. Nearly $400,000 of that came from the American Beverage Association.

A Republican state Senator who supported the tax lamented, "I just wish they'd spent $390,000 in preventing obesity. We'd all be better off. I think there will continue to be proposals into the future to try to fight obesity, and a tax on sugary drinks is just one way to do that."

Then there’s the controversy surrounding whether to eliminate soda from the food stamp program.  In 2009, food stamps bought $75-$135 million worth of soda and other sweetened beverages in New York City alone. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who requested that New York be allowed to ban soda from the list of products that can be purchased with food stamps, argued that “sugar-sweetened drinks are not worth the cost to our health, and government shouldn’t be promoting or subsidizing them.”   Public health advocates agree, but anti-hunger advocates believe food stamp recipients should have the freedom to buy as they choose, and that exempting soda puts forth the message that recipients are not capable of making good decisions.

The argument will go on. So the next time you pop open a can of Mountain Dew, or grab some fresh juice instead, just know that you are smack in the middle of one of the next great policy battles in America. Drink up.