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State wrong to use tax on sugary drinks as way to improve health

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The state Legislature is looking at imposing a tax on sugary drinks — soda, juice and sweetened coffee — in an effort to reduce consumption of sugar and improve the health of Washingtonians.

While we agree it’s best that people limit their sugar intake for the sake of their overall health, it’s not the state’s place to impose a tax as a de facto way to dictate what people drink or eat.

The proposal being considered in the Senate is modeled after an ordinance in Seattle that has increased the cost of a 12-ounce can of regular soda by 21 cents. According to the legislation’s sponsors this would be the first statewide tax on drinks with sugar.

The proposal calls for beverage distributors to be taxed on sweetened drinks that have more than 20 calories in a 12-ounce serving, according to reporting by Seattle’s KING-TV. This cost would then be passed along to consumers.

The cash raised by the tax would support public health programs and fund what backers called a health equity account for communities of color, according to The Associated Press.

This feels like a solution in search of a problem. A great deal of information is already available that makes it clear that sugary drinks in excess leads to health problems.

Beyond that, the state’s voters in 2018 approved an initiative that banned local governments from imposing new or increased local taxes, fees or assessments on foods and beverages. Initiative 1634 was approved with 56% of the vote.

I-1634, however, does not preclude the state from imposing such taxes. Nevertheless, the message from the 2018 vote is clear — the people don’t want any additional taxes on groceries, including regular Coke and Pepsi.

We have long opposed taxes on legal products imposed simply to discourage the purchase of these products to essentially save people from themselves.

If a product is a serious public health danger, then a higher tax isn’t the solution — a total ban of the product is.

Nobody is claiming, however, that coffee with some sugary, flavored syrup is a death sentence

While we don’t promote the excessive drinking of sugary sodas and other beverages, we also understand some people like them very much, particularly the fancy coffee-based drinks (often with whipped cream on top).

Those who enjoy a coffee or soda made with real sugar rather than artificial sweeteners should have the opportunity to purchase what they like without having to pay extra because too much sugar is unhealthy.

We see this as a matter of personal freedom. What legal products we drink is not a concern of state government — or any government.

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