Health

World Health Organization Begs Everyone to Start Taxing Soda, for Crying Out Loud

Published On 10/11/2016 Published On 10/11/2016

You have to pay a tax on alcohol. You have to pay a hefty tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. And, if you're one of the few people left who doesn't understand the dangers of tanning beds (hello, wrinkles and skin cancer!), you have to pay a tax on indoor tanning. 

Now, the World Health Organization is urging countries to tax something else that's incredibly bad for you: soda and other sugary beverages. The whopping levels of sugar have been linked to diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay, and the WHO hopes a lower consumption of "free sugars" will curb these chronic conditions. It also recommend your daily sugar intake be kept below 10% of your total calories, and one can of soda quickly throws you over that limit. 

Although soft-drink consumption is already on the decline, this new report from the organization says a 20% increase in prices will lead to less consumption and "improved nutrition." Which is pretty tough to argue with, given the known dangers of sugar.

The WHO has officially lent its support to countries who have already taxed sugary goods, including Mexico and Hungary, and South Africa will introduce its tax on soda in 2017. But those are mere drops of cola in the Big Gulp of chronic disease caused by sugar -- in supporting sugar taxes for the first time ever, the WHO hopes to convince bigger nations to curb the global obesity and diabetes epidemics. Looking at you, USA.  

But I don't want THE GOVERNMENT telling me I can't quench my thirst with carbonated sugar water!

Don't worry, you can still drink soda! Youll just have to pay a little more to do it -- as with any public health concern, it's a question of paying a little now, or paying a LOT later. Consider cigarettes: everyone could buy dirt-cheap cigs back in the day, and that led to fun stuff like lung cancer, heart attacks, and other nasty long-term diseases.

Ultimately, that means fewer available hospital beds and doctors for treatment, plus it's damn expensive to care for patients with chronic conditions. Better to make the offending product -- tobacco -- more expensive to discourage use in the first place. You can still smoke, but the immediate consequence of a lighter wallet has proven a more effective deterrent than the long-term possibility of throat cancer. With those working in tandem, smoking becomes a pretty tough habit to sell.

Same goes for sugar and the diseases it causes. Most Americans can currently enjoy soft drinks tax-free, and they're dirt cheap to buy. Fountain soda in particular costs just pennies an ounce, and a can of soda is sometimes cheaper than a bottle of water. That's insane! If you're looking for a cheap drink for the family, why wouldn't you choose soda? It's delicious! It's cheap! It could give you diabetes and cost you your lower extremities -- and a boatload in medical expenses -- if you guzzle it like water, but who cares! That's years from now. 

It's going to be a tough sell in America

Considering how New Yorkers flipped their shit over the proposed "giant soda" ban back in 2013, it's unclear how the WHO's recommendation will go down, especially given the country's general aversion to more taxes. Some cities have had success, though -- Philadelphia passed a soda tax, and was promptly sued, in typical American fashion. They can take our limbs, but they can never take our freedom [to crush can after can of soda while playing video games]! So inspiring. Berkeley, California saw a drop in sugary beverage consumption after passing a special tax, and Oakland is hoping the same will happen if a November ballot initiative passes

Change is slow, but it's coming. Soon, we'll live in a post-sugar America; the days when a Big Gulp from 7-Eleven cost less than a dollar will be a distant memory. But don't fret too much. You can always do the same thing you do with cigarettes; just buy a case of soda when you're feeling bad about life, only to realize you could never finish more than one or two, and it was a total waste of money. 

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Christina Stiehl is a Health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist. She loves a good fountain Diet Coke so much, she'd even pay a tax on it. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaStiehl.

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