2017! Can you believe it's almost here? Aren’t we supposed to be flying around in personal aero cars by now a la the Jetsons? Where’s Rosie, the household robot, when you need her?
Of course, we do have the Internet, smart phones (or at least most of us do) and Uber, technological and social leaps no one had imagined would be around in 2017. So what is looming on the horizon?
I still don’t see aero cars in the future, although driverless cars are getting closer to reality. And despite there being no Rosie, there is Roomba, the robot vacuum cleaner that scares infants and small pets — just like Rosie.
I do see two issues looming ahead, however, and those are sugar taxes and legalized marijuana, both of which have major implications for the confectionery industry. But let’s focus on something all confectioners should do well to monitor: sugar taxes.
Last month on Nov. 10, the Cook County Board (Chicago and neighboring suburbs are part of Cook County, which has 5.2 million residents) approved a penny-an-ounce “pop” tax. That’s soda to you East and West Coast readers, “Coke” or cola to those south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Although several cities across the United States also enacted the same kind of tax last year — Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boulder — Cook County is the largest entity to do so. The tax is expected to raise $224 million annually, although Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has emphasized that “raising revenue” was not her first choice. Rather, it was about avoiding cuts to public health and public safety programs as well as ensuring fiscal stability. Still, the “I’m doing this for the public’s well-being” connotation did surface conveniently more often than not.
Last October, the World Health Organization came out wholeheartedly for the imposition of taxes on sugary drinks.
“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” said Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of NCDs [Noncommunicable Diseases]. “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.”
Preckwinkle, of course, did cite the health benefits that would arise from the sugar tax. Oddly enough, Cook County’s tax also applies to artificially sweetened beverages. It does not, however, apply to orange or apple juice, which naturally have high sugar levels.
Then there’s the question of whether such taxes actually do improve public health, besides raising revenues for government bodies. For example, there have been conflicting reports about the success of Mexico’s 10 percent tax on soft drinks, in effect since 2014.
The British Medical Journal reports that there was a 12 percent decline in sugar-sweetened beverages as a result of the tax. But the Financial Times, which cited Canadean, reported that volume sales of fizzy drinks in Mexico rose 0.5 percent in 2015 after a 1.9 percent drop in 2014.
A study tracking two low-income neighborhoods in Berkeley, the only city in the United States that has already implemented a tax, found consumption of soft drinks dropped by more than 20 percent. Still, the improved health correlation hasn't been made yet.
For the record, I’m fundamentally opposed to any kind of food tax; I still believe in that age-old maxim that there are no “bad foods,” just bad diets. That said, I do see more and more municipalities reverting to a sugar sin tax as a revenue generator.
It’s easy, it's “better-for-them” and heck, it can solve a budget crisis. Do any funds go to educating the public about good diets and the idea of moderation? Moreover, demonizing sugar, putting it on the same plane as tobacco or alcohol, doesn’t bode well for the confectionery industry.
Let’s get our fiscal houses in order through a more intelligent means of taxation, and not one that sends consumers to adjoining counties and cities where there are no sugar taxes to purchase their soft drinks.
Sugar, unlike excess, isn’t a sin; it’s an ingredient that delivers sweetness, something we’re all in need of.