Podcast: debating Seattle’s proposed tax on sugary drinks – and diet soda too

Seattle is poised to join cities like Berkeley and Philadelphia in imposing a hefty sin tax on Coca Cola, Pepsi and other sugary drinks.

The latest version of the proposal by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray would put a 1.75-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors of such beverages, raising an estimated $23 million a year. The Seattle City Council plans to vote on the plan soon.

Is Seattle’s plan a forward thinking public-health move akin to cigarette taxes? Or an overreach of the “nanny state?”? In Episode 38 of The Overcast, the Seattle Times politics podcast, reporters Jim Brunner and Dan Beekman grill a leading advocate and opponent of the tax.

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First we hear from Lindsay Hovind, with the American Heart Association, who says the tax is about combating America’s undeniable obesity epidemic. “Sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugar in the American diet, and the fact is we are all consuming too much sugar,” Horvind says. She cites Berkeley, where a similar tax has succeed in cutting sales of sugary sodas.

Then, we’re joined by an opponent whose business would be affected: West Seattle hamburger drive-in owner Ryan Hopkins, who estimates the proposal could double the price of the fountain drinks he sells. “We have our choices,” he says. “I just don’t think it’s government’s right or their reason to step in an make that decision for us.”

We ask both sides about the public health arguments for and against the tax, and explore why diet sodas were added — not so much for health purposes as to make sure the tax applied to beverages consumed by wealthier, whiter residents.

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