A doctor’s argument supporting soda taxes in Seattle

Feb 24, 2017, 5:44 AM | Updated: 9:26 am
soda taxes, soda tax...
Seattle has proposed a 2 cent per ounce soda tax. Jannes Fockele, Flickr

Imagine you are out at a restaurant and a person at the next table takes out eight packets of sugar. They then proceed to pour that sugar into a glass of water and drink it.

“You’d be pretty shocked and say that’s some odd behavior,” said Dr. Kenneth Margulies, a cardiologist. “But that’s what’s engineered into each and every 12-ounce can (of soda).”

“As a physician, I was completely unaware of that proportion, and for good reason,” he said. “They don’t want to advertise how much sugar is in the drinks people consume.”

Related: Soda tax proposed for Seattle

That’s an example that Margulies gives when talking about soda taxes. He specializes in heart failure and lives in Philadelphia where a soda tax was implemented in January. The City of Philadelphia is a snapshot of Seattle’s future if the city passes a similar tax. During the first month of Philadelphia’s 1.5 cent per ounce tax, the city received $5.7 million, according to Philly.com. It only expected a return of $2.3 million.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed a 2 cents per ounce tax in his State of the City address on Tuesday. The funds will be used to address disparities in education. Legislation for the tax has yet to be considered by city officials.

An argument for soda taxes

Dr. Margulies argues that no matter which way you approach a soda tax, it’s a positive change in Philadelphia and would be for Seattle, too.

“They netted $5.7 million in new revenue,” he said. “So clearly the dynamic is not that people are going outside the city and consuming outside Philadelphia.”

“An individual person will either choose to pay the added cost and support the revenue goals of the policy, or reduce their consumption and support the health goals of the policy,” Margulies said. “As a community, I suspect there will be a balancing of the two.”

The opposite argument is that this is a money grab and the government doesn’t always know what’s best for our health.

Dr. Margulies argues otherwise.

“We have alcohol taxes, we have cigarette taxes,” he said. “This is not the first thing to come up that way.”

“Like other things that have health consequences, there are costs associated with them which governments end up bearing through medical subsidies and otherwise … often taxes are one of the ways that the true costs of choices people are free to make get engineered into the whole system. There are health consequences that are very costly, that governments end up paying a share of.”

The doctor, however, does admit that he comes from a biased perspective — one that has seen the end result of what such choices lead to.

“As a health professional, I just want to see less heart failure, less diabetes, less consequences people are sorry they got,” Margulies said. “They definitely regret the choices they made earlier, but it’s too late and not always reversible by that time. From where I sit, I see the delayed health consequences, and the regrets from the choices people made. It gives me a different perspective on this.”

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
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A doctor’s argument supporting soda taxes in Seattle