Hartley: The right war on the wrong battlefield | AspenTimes.com

# Hartley: The right war on the wrong battlefield

Todd Hartley
I’m With Stupid

With the news last month that four cities — Boulder, San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, California — had voted to join cities like Berkeley, Philadelphia and Chicago in taxing sugary beverages, it got me wondering which beverages would be getting taxed and which wouldn't. There's a lot of sugar out there, after all, and it seems to me that these taxes could end up getting applied indiscriminately if not handled correctly.

So, being the diligent researcher that I am, I decided to look into the issue. It turns out that the basic rule is that if it has added sugar, it gets taxed. If it doesn't, it doesn't. This means that non-diet sodas, iced teas and sports drinks will get taxed by the ounce, while 100 percent fruit juices with no added sugar will not.

With that in mind, would you care to play a game?

I'll list some beverages by their grams of sugar and calories per 8 ounces, and you try to guess which will be taxed and which won't, OK? Here we go:

A. 23 grams sugar, 110 calories

B. 25 grams sugar, 90 calories

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C. 28 grams sugar, 110 calories

D. 28 grams sugar, 110 calories

E. 26 grams sugar, 120 calories

F. 14 grams sugar, 60 calories

G. 14 grams sugar, 54 calories

Here's your answer: A, C and E will not be taxed, while B, D, F and G will be taxed. Seems a little arbitrary, doesn't it? I mean, if we're going to be taxing sugar to fight obesity and diabetes, surely F and G, the two items on my list with the least sugar and fewest calories, should be tax-exempt, right? But those two drinks are, respectively, Hawaiian Punch Fruit Juicy Red and Gatorade lemon-lime, both of which are pretty much the poster boys for what the pro-tax people are fighting.

As for the others, A is Minute Maid Pure Squeezed, which won't be taxed because it's 100 percent juice, and B is Minute Maid Citrus Punch, which will be even though it has fewer calories. The next two, C and D, which have exactly the same numbers, are Ocean Spray 100% Juice Cranberry Juice and Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail. The former won't be taxed because its sugars occur naturally while the latter will be taxed because its sugars are added.

The most interesting one, however, is E, which by its sheer numbers alone appears to be one of the worst of the lot. It's Juicy Juice 100% Juice Fruit Punch, which we've all been led to believe is a healthier choice to put in a kid's lunch box. Clearly, it's worse for kids than Hawaiian Punch (which also contains 100 percent of a kid's daily vitamin C), but it won't be getting taxed. Call me stupid, but that seems stupid.

The problem with issues like this and, say, the way plastic-bag laws are applied, is that the results they're trying to achieve are admirable, so to criticize them makes me seem like kind of a jerk. Nevertheless, criticize I must. These taxes are really nothing more than a way for self-righteous liberals to feel better about themselves, and I'm not the only one saying that.

Two studies in 2010 concluded that the taxes would do little to combat obesity and diabetes because people unwilling to pay the tax would merely switch to untaxed beverages with just as much sugar and calories. Seems like a logical conclusion to me. It's kind of what I'm preparing to do when I'm in Boulder from now on.

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for combating obesity and diabetes, but I personally believe sugar taxes will do nothing to help the cause. Meanwhile, people in most of the cities I listed could end up paying 1 cent more per ounce, or 20 cents a bottle, for the privilege of drinking a Gatorade. In Boulder, where the tax is 2 cents per ounce, it'll be even worse.

Tax advocates claim that most of the cost of the taxes will be absorbed by the manufacturers and distributors, but if you think they won't pass that on to customers, you're being naive. Ultimately, consumers, particularly poor ones, will bear the burden.

The worst part of all this, though — at least as far as I'm concerned — is that disgusting sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and stevia extract will become even more ubiquitous. I hate to say it, but that might be enough to make me switch to water and actually lose some weight. Son of a bitch.