Globe Editorial

Legislature should end tax break for soda, candy

February 18, 2010

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GOVERNOR PATRICK’S proposal to end the sales tax exemption for soda and candy should be adopted by the Legislature as both a sensible way to provide money for health care and as a way to combat dangerous eating habits. While critics are justified in worrying about a slippery slope - just how much fat is in fine cheeses, by the way? - the state is on solid ground in making a narrow, clearly defined effort to promote healthier diets for children.

Each month brings yet more bad news to connect sugary soda to diabetes, obesity, and worse. Last week, a University of Minnesota study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention suggested that people who drink two or more sodas a week nearly double their risk of developing highly deadly pancreatic cancer. Researchers are concerned that the high levels of sugar in soda may stimulate insulin production to the point of promoting tumor growth. The American Beverage Association predictably responded that cancer can be caused by factors other than soda. It said, “You can be a healthy person and enjoy soft drinks.’’ That requires a sense of moderation that has ceased to exist among many Americans. The American Cancer Society says soda is clearly linked to obesity and diabetes, which in turn are associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer.

Unfooled by industry rhetoric, Patrick made his case for the repeal of the sales tax exemption in an issue brief that cited major studies detailing the outrageous amount of sugar in soda and the way empty calories wreak havoc on the body and ruin a person’s appetite for healthy foods. He called the repeal “a critical first step to discouraging the consumption of these unhealthy items.’’ That suggests there could be more to come. Public health advocates around the nation want a penny-per-ounce tax on soda to cut consumption and raise tens of billions of dollars for health programs. With his first step, Patrick hopes to raise more than $50 million annually for health programs in Massachusetts. It would be the first step in the long march to protect the well-being - and prolong the lives - of the next generation.

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