Recently soda distributors had to lay off employees in the Philadelphia area because of a 30 percent to 50 percent decrease in sales because of the Jan. 1 initiation of the soda tax.
The tax is 1.5 cents per ounce of sweetened beverage. Sweetened beverages include regular and diet soda, including zero calorie; non-100 percent fruit drinks; sports drinks; sweetened water; energy drinks; pre-sweetened coffee or tea; and non-alcoholic beverages intended to be mixed into an alcoholic drink. Adding this tax to the 8 percent sales tax means a 12-pack of soda will now cost $2.16 more than just the rate of charge of the product.
Increasing taxes has always been an effective way to decrease use. This is one reason behind the efforts in North Carolina to increase the tax on cigarettes by one dollar — since smokers tend to have less financial resources, they have to restrict their purchases. Last month the American Lung Association noted that North Carolina failed in all five of its categories. Those categories are: funding for tobacco control and cessation, smoke-free air, tobacco taxes, access to cessation services and tobacco 21, which is raising the minimum age of purchase from 18 to 21. Last year the state spent $1.1 million on tobacco control programs, which is paltry when compared with the $99 million that the American Lung Association recommends be spent.
In order to receive some passing grades, North Carolina needs to increase the state cigarette tax by a dollar a pack, expand smoke-free laws to all public places and private work sites, and restore funding for tobacco control programs — QuitlineNC has been drastically trimmed for example. While there is movement on making more places smoke-free, the taxing and funding needs will probably go wanting.
Keep in mind that smoking cost the state $3.8 billion in 2016 and that 14,220 deaths were attributed to it. Oh wait, let’s not confuse the debate with facts.
Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.