Are candy and soda food?
Yes, in Massachusetts, candy and soda are considered food and are exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. But Gov. Deval Patrick wants to change that. He’s asking the Legislature to start taxing every bag of M&M’s and bottle of Pepsi you buy.
“Half of the people in the commonwealth are overweight or obese,” says Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Dr. Lauren Smith. “A third of our kids are overweight or obese. Those are pretty daunting statistics, so the idea of adjusting the price of things that we know are associated with [obesity] makes sense.”
Smith says taxing candy and soda would raise about $53 million a year for general state spending. A coalition known as Healthy People, Healthy Economy is working with Rep. Kay Khan, of Newton, on a bill that would put candy and soda tax revenue into the state’s prevention and wellness trust fund.
But will adding roughly a dime to the cost of a soda make kids reach for something healthier instead?
“A small tax will have a small impact, a larger tax will have a larger impact. I mean, there’s just no way around that,” says Lisa Powell, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Powell says applying the sales tax to soda would cut consumption by 7 to 8 percent, based on what’s happened in 35 other states. She says that’s a small but significant decrease that might be undermined if the state taxes just soda, “because you’re going to have substitution from soda to fruit drinks that have a lot of sugar in them, energy drinks, sports drinks.”
Powell says her research shows that “black children are twice as likely to be heavy fruit drink consumers, and white youth are twice as likely than their black counterparts to be heavy soda consumers. So you’ll miss different groups … if you only tax certain types of drinks.”
“I don’t think the governor should be picking and choosing what people are drinking,” says David Arons, a lawyer from Sharon, who opposes any new taxes. Continue reading