No matter what you call it, keep an eye on beverage tax


So, is it soda or pop?
It seems that it depends on where you grew up. I grew up just calling it soda, or the brand you wanted. If you wanted a Pepsi, you said Pepsi. A Mr. Pibb, a Tab … you get the picture. I'm old.
Calling it pop is a very Midwestern thing. I will admit that it made me chuckle the first 100 or so times I heard someone say they wanted a “pop.” To me, it sounded like something a kid from a 1950s movie movie would say.
“Gee mister, could I have a nickel for a pop?”
Having a soda (sorry!) when I was a kid was not an everyday occurrence. We were more likely to drink sun tea or – when the sugar really mattered – Kool Aid. I could drink gallons of Kool Aid when I was a kid – lime and grape were my favorites, although I was anything but picky when it came to this sugary delight.
Sugar. That's what these drinks are all about, right? Sure, the diet versions are enjoyed by many people, but it is that evil sugar that gave them the taste we craved.
The thing about sugar, of course, is that too much of it is not a good thing. You can burn that off when you are a kid, but as adults – not so much. And what do adults do with something that is too much of a good thing?
Tax it, of course.
Before people start asking me to join anti-tax protests, let me say that I am not generally anti-tax. Some taxes are good, and we do need them to operate our cities, counties, states and even or lumbering federal government.
But these very specific taxes aimed at things like cigarettes, alcohol and soda don't always make sense. And no, I am not a smoker and do believe cigarettes need to be taxed.
Take the Cook County “Pop Tax” that went into effect in July and was recently rescinded. The tax was a penny per ounce on all sweetened beverages. The aniti-soda crowd cheered loudly and assured all of us that we would soon all be healthier and happier.
Of course, Cook County didn't care about that. Nope. What it cared about was the word “tax.” Because a new tax means money for the county coffers. I think elected officials in Cook County would club baby seals if it meant more tax money.
So, are all the former soda drinkers in Cook County now healthy long-distance runners? No. They just went to a store that was not in the county to get their soda, meaning merchants in the county were – how can I put this? – screwed.
So now the tax – and its estimated $200 million – is gone. Cook County will need to find some savings in the budget, and not rely on this tax.
Look, I will agree that drinking a bunch of sugary soda is not good for you. And in a country that can't even agree on health care for its citizens, we should worry about public health.
But too many taxes like this are just a gimmick, really. If something is that bad for people, give them the information and let them decide, or just ban it like we did with cocaine (which was originally an ingredient in Coca-Cola).
Look at smoking. The number of people who smoke continues to fall. It is now about 15 percent of the adult population. In 1970, more than 37 percent of adults smoked.
I would bet that soda drinking will continue to become less popular as well. But until the last bottle has been sold, the debate will continue to rage – pop or soda?