Laws Singling Out Soda Labels Will Not Solve Obesity Problem
By Allen Gutierrez
A 2011 report from the California Commission for Economic Development (CCED) states, “Collaboration is the new form of competition.” Today, that very notion is developing into a business model around the country.
However, for collaboration between state government and the private sector to generate successful policy outcomes, politicians must acknowledge that laws and regulations alone cannot address many of the complex and interconnected issues facing society.
Public health is one such complex and interconnected issue that government and private organizations are trying to improve. Often, their efforts are collaborative, but there are times when the efforts of government are at odds with the private sector.
Increasingly, politicians are pushing for government to play a significant role in reducing obesity. In New York City, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban the sale of sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces. New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division unanimously declared the soda ban an overreach of executive power.
Over the past several years, approximately 30 states and cities across the country have tried to tax sodas and other sweetened drinks. All of the tax proposals failed. Voters overwhelmingly oppose the government singling out sweetened beverages and adding new taxes to discourage consumption.
The California state legislature has attempted a statewide tax on soft drinks at least three times – but each time the tax failed to become law. Now, politicians in Sacramento are considering a new law that would require warning labels on beverages like soda, sweetened teas, and sports drinks as a way of changing our behavior.
The proposal, (Senate Bill 1000) called the “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Safety Warning Act,” would prohibit people and businesses from selling sweetened beverages without warning labels. The labels would be required to state: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”
The proposed new law includes confusing exemptions. For instance, milk-based products like frappuccinos, mochas and milkshakes would not be required to carry the label, even though some of these products contain just as much sugar as a soda.
Government attempts to regulate or influence what we eat are misguided. Such laws become increasingly confusing and complicated to implement. Plus, they hurt restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses by forcing them shoulder the responsibility of higher taxes and bureaucratic red tape.
Ultimately, singling out the beverages we drink and blaming them for obesity distracts us from better education about health and meaningful solutions to improve our overall health – not just our waistlines.
Many politicians single out the Hispanic community as being more obese than Americans as a whole and use us as an excuse for pushing taxes and new laws to regulate behavior. While their intentions are well meaning, it’s wrong to suggest that our community is less healthy than other communities and in need of special government oversight.
It is particularly discouraging that state lawmakers made no effort to reach out to the 700,000 Hispanic business owners in California to determine how SB 1000 would impact jobs or hundreds of small businesses. Hispanic-owned businesses account for one of the fastest growing sectors of our state economy, and bring over $100 billion to state annually, according to a recent study conducted by the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. It would be shameful for our state government to stifle this growth with new regulations that many of our businesses and hard working entrepreneurs simply cannot afford.
If the California state legislators want to achieve successful outcomes around the complex and interconnected issue of obesity, health and nutrition, collaboration is in order. Their actions, however, imply that they think they know what’s best for us, and all Californians.
Allen Gutierrez is the national executive director of the Latino Coalition: www.thelatinocoalition.com
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May 15, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.