Is Seattle’s soda tax actually making people healthier?

Jul 9, 2018, 4:52 PM
soda tax...
A sign indicating higher prices of sugary drinks due to Seattle's soda tax. (Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)
(Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)

It’s not entirely surprising that Seattle’s soda tax has been raising money at a rapid rate, now totaling approximately $4.5 million. Nor is it a shock that the 1.75 cents per ounce has caused a decline in soda sales at stores and distributors.

What KIRO Radio’s John Curley wants to know if anybody’s actually getting healthier.

“Will people buy less sugary drinks if you raise the price? Yes,” Curley said. “Will they get thinner and will this do anything about obesity? The answer to that is no. There’s no evidence that shows people won’t consume some other type of sugary thing. They might not drink a soda, but then they’ll go ahead and drink a milkshake.”

RELATED: Initiative to stop soda, grocery tax gets big support, likely to make Nov ballot

The money is set to pay for healthy-food programs, community-college scholarships, administrative costs, and early-learning programs. Part of the revenue will also be spent on studying the tax itself, and how it impacts people’s consumption behavior.

What Curley would like is for the study to specifically look at whether people are actually getting healthier, since it’s seemingly the entire thrust of the tax.

“Why don’t you get a metric? Do a test. Get 4,000 or 5,000 to make it scientifically relevant. OK, these are soda drinkers, and then the tax goes into effect. You weigh 245 pounds, you’re 5’7, and you’ve got a 41 inch waist. One year later, you’re exactly the same weight, if not heavier, because now you’re buying a Snickers bar.”

“Well then we’ll go after the Snickers bars,” joked KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney.

There’s been an effort to implement such a tax at the state level, as well as an effort to prevent it. On January 8, a resolution to re-introduce HB 1975 was passed. It would place a tax on distributors of sugary drinks, but at 2 cents per fluid ounce, more than Seattle’s 1.75 cents per fluid ounce. Neither efforts were successful.

Those opposed recently gathered upwards of 350,000 signatures for Initiative 1634, which would bar local governments from imposing taxes on sweetened beverages.

Is the soda about more than reducing obesity?

For Tom, the soda tax is a greater good even if it doesn’t reduce obesity, considering the money being raised.

“It’s a failsafe situation, because even if you don’t get people to stop drinking, you at least are raising money for a good cause,” he said. “If you raise money for early infant education, there’s a social good that comes out of it whether we stop drinking or not. When I go into a Bartell and they have the price announcing what the soda tax is on top of it, I don’t know if that’s going to stop somebody who’s dying for a Coke.”

But Curley wants the tax to be held to the issue its proponents claim to be tackling. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is to have people be healthier and less obese. But they have no metric, as they never want to have a metric.”

“The thing they’re looking at is: ‘Hey, we made $4.5 million after transferring income from mostly poor minorities to the government, which will then take that and create government work jobs, like for instance, somebody handing out bananas and apples and oranges to people that don’t want them.”

“Sales are down, so people are making different choices. But are they getting thinner?”

Tom and Curley on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 3pm for The Tom and Curley Show.

Tom and Curley Show

Tom and Curley

Tom and Curley Show

KIRO Radio says goodbye ahead of Tom Tangney’s final show before retirement

With Wednesday marking the final day before Tom Tangney's retirement, KIRO Radio personalities, reporters, and more are saying their goodbyes. 
23 hours ago
Tom and Curley Show

20 years too many? Tom and Curley debate the TSA as Thanksgiving travel ramps up

As Sea-Tac Airport will see an estimated 1.5 million travelers over Thanksgiving, KIRO Radio's Tom and Curley Show questions the necessity of the TSA.
8 days ago
Tom Tangney...
Tom and Curley Show

Tom & Curley Show co-host Tom Tangney announces retirement

After nearly three decades at KIRO Radio, Tom & Curley Show co-host Tom Tangney is retiring, with his last show set for Dec. 1.
10 days ago
Jeff Bezos...
John Curley

John Curley once gave Jeff Bezos a ‘Best Boss’ award

John Curley recalls the time he met Jeff Bezos, giving him a “Best of Western Washington” award for "Best Boss" from Evening Magazine.
14 days ago
Find out why Dori was jealous of John Curley. (This photo of John offers a hint...)...
Dori Monson

Green-eyed monster gets between Dori and John Curley

Dori had to admit he was jealous last week after hearing something about his friend and colleague, KIRO Radio host John Curley.
16 days ago
Tom Tangney

Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Belfast’ is a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t quite hit the mark

"Belfast" has plenty to recommend itself but it's not nearly the moving testament to fraught times that Kenneth Branagh thinks it is or wants it to be.
21 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Is Seattle’s soda tax actually making people healthier?