Cook County soda tax set for repeal

When I wrote last August about Cook County’s new and onerous tax on sodas and sweetened beverages—objecting strenuously on the grounds that 1. it’s part of the encroaching Nanny State, 2. it’s unfair because it includes diet sodas, which aren’t known to be harmful, and 3. it excluded egregiously sweetened coffees like the odious Starbuck’s pumpkin latte—I never expected to start a debate that went on for 250 comments. I can’t be arsed to reread them all again, but as I recall, debate was split right down the middle, with the quasi-libertarians, like me, squabbling with those who think the government has every right to tell its citizens what to eat and drink because, after all, taxpayers foot the medical bills.

The tax was high—a penny per ounce, which raised the price of a can of Coke by 12¢ and a 2-liter bottle of soda by 64. This is on top of a new 7¢ tax on each plastic bag provided by a store (a fee I don’t object to, as it’s fair, reduces litter, and you can just re-use your bags).

And this time the inhabitants of Chicago (in Cook County) became mad as hell and weren’t taking it any more. After severe pressure from locals, many of whom went over the border to Indiana to buy soda, The County Board Finance Committee is set to repeal the soda tax on Tuesday. As the Chicago Tribune reports:

Relentless public pressure appears to have doomed the Cook County soda tax. The County Board Finance Committee is scheduled to meet on Tuesday. As of Friday, 12 of the 17 commissioners had signed on to repeal it. They includes three who originally voted in favor of the tax and newcomer Dennis Deer, D-Chicago. That’s a veto-proof majority, folks.

At a penny per ounce on beverages laced with sugar or artificial sweeteners, the tax has reached deep into consumers’ pockets. And they understand the tax wasn’t about protecting public health. It was about feeding county government with more revenue.

The lesson? A dishonest tax is a deceit citizens won’t tolerate. Millions of dollars from soda tax supporter Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who financed television ads here supporting it, couldn’t prop up a lie. Have a Big Gulp on us, Mike.

I’m glad to hear this, as it nearly doubled the price of my daily diet soda, and I couldn’t understand why all the ads that favored the tax (showing pictures of dialysis machines and so on), never mentioned that diet sodas would also be taxed. Now I object to a huge tax on soda in general (and no tax on Starbucks’ Frappuccinos), but I really object to a so-called “health tax” on diet sodas that aren’t unhealthy. Although you can make a Nanny State case for taxing sodas (and I disagree with that), you can’t make any health-based case for taxing diet sodas.

As always, I don’t think the government should be in the business of regulating our diets. Cigarettes, well, maybe, because when used as intended they are dangerous; but many people drink soda in moderation. Are the rest of us going to be penalized because of a daily Coke or Diet Coke? I expect that many readers will mourn the passing of this tax, pointing out that dangerous foods should be taxed (why not a butter tax, then, or a hamburger tax?), but then we get into the business of the government micromanaging our diets. I won’t have that, and I’m glad the taxpayers pushed back on this one.


  1. Paul
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    My view is that additional measures against cigarettes are justified. Mostly because they can harm others, especially children, through passive smoking.

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    What really makes the citizen’s look stupid in this who business is that government subsidies the sugar industry and the corn industry that puts the sweet stuff in everything. It was not much different with the smoking either. We put tons of tax on the consumer and continued to subsidize the tobacco industry. pure nonsense.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted October 7, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      whole business, good grief.

    • Harrison
      Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Sugar prices in the US are actually artificially high, roughly double the world average in fact.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        Sure, that is what subsidy is. If the American growers/farmers had to get by on world prices they would not be raising and growing the product. Of course the reason the soda manufacturers stopped using sugar and switched to corn starch/sugar was cost.

        • Harrison
          Posted October 7, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

          It depends on the type of subsidy. Sugar growers in the US are paid to produce less and charge more. Corn growers get pretty much the opposite deal. As a result corn is cheap and plentiful and sugar is pricy. Subsidies don’t have a uniform outcome.

          But the main point is the type of deal sugar gets in the US means food producers are actually disincentivized to use sugar already. And if the US govt. got out of the sugar game entirely and the price fell we’d probably start seeing more sugar in our consumer goods, not less.

  3. BJ
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Damn good news. And I’m glad to watch Michael Bloomberg waste millions of dollars only to have his policy belatedly kicked to the curb. As mayor of NYC, Bloomberg simultaneously made the city a place in which only the rich could comfortably afford an enjoyable lifestyle, while passing law after law targeting lifestyle choices common among the poor for increased taxation and nanny state regulation.

  4. Posted October 7, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Why don’t these nanny-state advocates go all the way and propose a tax on citizens according to their BMI? Good luck with that.

  5. Posted October 7, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Boulder has a similar penny per ounce tax, but diet drinks are to be excluded. However, fast food joints with self serve drinks generally just add on the tax, adding 38 cents to each drink – they must be calculating on the refill as well!

    • Harrison
      Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Distinguishing sugary and non-sugary drinks isn’t worth the bookkeeping for most businesses, so they’re just gonna split the difference no matter what. That’s why proposed solutions of “just don’t tax diet drinks” won’t work. Nobody wants to waste time counting pennies.

      • Posted October 7, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        They’ve managed to do it here just by coding different beverages differently. Club soda, for instance, doesn’t accrue a tax when you scan it. It would be dead easy to do that with diet sodas.

        For mom and pop stores, you just look at the sticker.

  6. Historian
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    The Cook County soda tax is a classic example of politicians failing to understand the mood of their constituents. The Cook County Board of Commissioners who voted for the tax and the Board President, Toni Preckwinkle (often unaffectionally referred to as Taxwinkle), displayed an extraordinary arrogance in thinking that they could pass any kind of tax without being concerned about the pushback. Moreover, they tried to argue that the tax was to both promote health and raise revenue. The health argument was totally bogus because if that were the case, why not tax all food that contains sugar (which would be almost everything)? Why did they tax soda that is artifically sweetened? Preckwinkle has finally admitted that the primary purpose of the tax was to raise revenue. Also, I think the public was turned off by the seemingly unending mailings by the tax supporters as well as the TV ads paid by Michael Bloomberg.

    I am not opposed to paying more in taxes when I feel it is necessary. I was not particularly upset when the state income tax was raised this year, which will cost me a lot more than the soda tax. But, the deceit surrounding the soda tax really annoyed me. The humbling of politicians is not a bad thing.

  7. Posted October 7, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    That’s very interesting, and I seem to recall that the inclusion of artificially sweetened sodas seems to have been the death knell. IIRC there was some debate on the justification of taxing artificially sweetened sodas, it being argued that they constituted a gateway soda.

    However, your quote from the Chicago Tribune suggests that the inclusion of artificial sweeteners was the straw that broke the cliché’s back in the sense that it made it obvious that this was a revenue raising measure, not a public health measure.

    On a lighter note:

    I can’t be arsed to reread them all again,

    IK always thought this was a peculiarly British expression (especially considering the spelling of “arsed”) and I am pleased to see that at least one resident of our lost colonies is coming back to the fold, linguistically, at least.

  8. C. Morano
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    To anybody that believes politicians and bureaucrats should have a say on what we ingest or digest, you are a pro choice hypocrite amd deserve the wrath of Donald Trump.

  9. Posted October 7, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Re “I don’t think the government should be in the business of regulating our diets.” You obviously don’t appreciate history. Realize that the government is “us” (for better or worse) and look up the history of the Poison Patrol, which was formed because food producers in the US didn’t mind including known poisons (arsenic, etc.), and biotoxins, and hard drugs on their non-existent ingredients lists.

    There is always an absolute need for regulation in a capitalist society. The debate should never be about “whether or not” but “how much.”

    The idiot who claims that corporations would just do wrong stuff to make money because that would hurt their reputation is living in a universe I have never visited.

  10. Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    How much profit are coca-cola nd Nestlé etc.making from selling basically sweetened water. How much do they pay for millions of gallons of water, often at the expense of local resources.And contributing mightily to plastic pollution. The whole soft drink industry is pretty corrupt. That is why I do not buy soft drinks or bottled water.Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to me to tax it and bring somw $ into the communities-at the expense of soda drinkers!!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 7, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      I can’t see anything wrong with an indirect tax on sugar (even though I like sugar rather too much). I’d like to see a tax on fat, too.

      But what really incenses me is the prices they charge (in NZ at least) for bottled water. It’s more expensive than soft drinks! In fact the existence of bottled water (in any city with a safe potable water supply) is a crime against the environment. Look at all the materials wasted in bottling and transporting the stuff. And now we have sleazy water filter and bottled water salesmen using ‘scare’ advertising to convince the suckers that the perfectly safe mains water is somehow not good for them.

      In fact the New Zealand bottled water industry is so overpriced I’ve seen bottled water from Malaysia and India on sale. It’s actually cheaper to ship the stuff halfway across the world than bottle it here. That’s an environmental crime if there ever was one.


  11. Tom Waddell
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    What I am amazed at is something like a soda tax gets 250 comments but appointing Sam Brownback to the office of religious freedom gets zero.

  12. nay
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Hate to disagree with DaProfessor, but I don’t mind paying across-the-board taxes that affect everyone equally in order to support government services. (If the council then voted to raise their salaries, that would be another thing.) I also don’t drink diet sodas because I can taste the artificial sweeteners, yech. Without proof, I doubt that they’re “healthier” than natural sugar, just that their unhealthy effects haven’t been researched. (I’m also a Coke drinker who can taste the difference from that other brand, double yech.) We already have special taxes on beer-wine-liquor; this is just more of the same. I also agree that frappucinos should have been included and support for tobacco and corn industries should be removed.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      You may be missing the point which was the tax excuse was HEALTH. Big brother wants to make you healthier by determining what you drink or don’t drink. You should eat baked potato and not fries so we will tax the fries. Sound like what you want?

      • Posted October 7, 2017 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        I always saw the tax as a cynical way to make money. I’ve been getting those (expensive) glossy postcards several times a week with the Grandmother to ‘think of the children,’ and all it evokes out of me is, “They’re children. Don’t give them money for pop.”

        When Rahm instituted the Red Light cameras in Chicago- which have been plagued by scandals, kickbacks and lawsuits- he did an press conference where mantra to every question was “It’s for the children. It’s for the children. It’s for the children.”

  13. Francisco
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    During millions of years we ate what a collector can find (without cate or agricultural products). Our bodies are evolutionary adapted to this food. Suddenly we changed to sugar full foods (cereals, potatoes, sugar in many recipes). Few are full adapted, many with soon or late problems.
    Good the state accepts and take measures to avoid public damage.
    During millions of years, predators and parasites try to feed from us. POLITICIANS are a new kind of predators that few are adapted to defend from…
    Taxes even on diet soda. They are always the same, predators and parasites.

  14. Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, Professor Coyne, but diet sodas may be much worse for you than the sugared kind:

    • Posted October 7, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Sorry fredzlotnick, but did you even read the article you cited? Here’s an excerpt:

      The study sheds light only on an association, as the researchers were unable to determine an actual cause-and-effect relationship between sipping artificially sweetened drinks and an increased risk for stroke and dementia. Therefore, some experts caution that the findings should be interpreted carefully.

      Until we know more, it seems judicious to stop slapping taxes on diet sodas. The research on this has always been inconclusive.
      Remember when eggs were supposed to be really bad for you?

    • Vaal
      Posted October 7, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      Despite the pervasive modern shibboleth that “diet coke and artificial sweeteners are sooooo bad for you, don’t you know you are killing yourself???!!….” the evidence just doesn’t support this confident conclusion.

      Artificial sweeteners have been just about the most studied food additive ever, and for a looong time now. There is no conclusive body of evidence that they pose a health risk.

      One of many articles on this issue:

      Note the Mayo clinic explains:

      Artificial sweeteners have been scrutinized intensely for decades. Critics of artificial sweeteners say that they cause a variety of health problems, including cancer. That’s largely because of studies dating to the 1970s that linked saccharin to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. Because of those studies, saccharin once carried a warning label that it may be hazardous to your health.

      But according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there’s no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems. And numerous research studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities, even for pregnant women. As a result of the newer studies, the warning label for saccharin was dropped.

      People so often are moved by an intuition that “chemicals are BAD for you” and so they fall easily into accepting artificial sweeteners must be evil. It’s essentially falling for “bro-science” via cherry-picking
      the results that seem to uphold that intuition.

      • Vaal
        Posted October 7, 2017 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        Whoah, sorry Jerry, I had no idea that link to the NYTimes would embed the article.

        If you could, would you remove the link? Sorry again.

        • Vaal
          Posted October 7, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          Also, formatting fail. The last paragraph after the mayo clinic link is my own. It wasn’t supposed to be italicized.

  15. Mark R.
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I agree and would add this type of tax adversely affects the poor and middle class. To people like Bloomberg, the tax might as well be non-existent.

  16. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think the government should be in the business of regulating our diets.

    Do you plan to address federal agricultural subsidies in a future post? Those also influence our diet by creating price incentives that promote consumption of (for instance) meat, grains, corn syrup, and dairy products.

    • Posted October 7, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink


      Were I you, I’d work on crafting comments that make your point without sounding snide.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted October 7, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        No snideness was intended. It seems a fair question to wonder what your opinion is of such production-side subsidies, whether you see them as examples of the same sort of governmental overreach as consumption taxes, and if not, why not?

  17. Tumara Baap
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Diet sodas are in fact suspected of contributing to the diabetes epidemic. The body releases a cascade of digestion and metabolism regulatory hormones well before a calorie reaches the intestine or liver. There is research being done on how the body metabolizes a calorie based on sweetness cues. Taste receptors are tightly intertwined with the metabolic fate of what you eat. I’ll grant this is not settled science and diet sodas should therefore be exempt from taxes.
    What is not in dispute is the success of soda taxes in places where it has been implemented, such as Mexico and Denmark. The slippery slope argument is a dishonest one. Taxation can be and has been implemented narrowly and on a piecemeal basis on the most egregious empty-calorie drinks that contribute disproportionately to a health epidemic. This is further justified from the vantage of human evolutionary biology weighing in on the role of sweetness receptors; past the sugar in few lucky strikes on a honey bee hive that hunter-gatherers used to manage, modern day sugar would be better classified as a nutritionally worthless and addictive toxin.
    If there is a group of people more repellent than Jesus freaks, it is Ayn Rand freaks, for they are as incapable of adjusting their world view in the face of compelling evidence. Indeed, upcoming John Bates or Nobel awards are highly unlikely to be for free market extremism, and more for behavioral economists in the mould of Thaler and Kahnemenn that define an ever shrinking Goldilocks zone bordered by oligopoly, herd behavior, irrationality, information asymmetries, lapses in long term planning and executive function and multitude of other general stupidities. I don’t lament my property tax or an alcohol tax (even though the amount I imbibe positively impacts longevity). I especially don’t lament a tax that does not even correct for what the Union of Concerned Scientists points out are ungodly government subsidies for crops that are worsening public health. And if you maintain you drink only the occasional soda, the soda tax as percentage of your annual total spending is negligible. On the other hand, slowing down of healthcare cost inflation would be most welcome. So whatcha bitchin’ about?

    • Posted October 7, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for saying we who oppose these taxes are repellant. Your comment goes up, but you go down. Have you read the posting rules? Have you not learned how to make your point without machine-gunning everyone with rudeness and self righteousness? I guess not.

      Your comment leads me to believe that you think that everything with sugar should be ganned because its an “addictive toxin.” LOL.

      Bye, rude person

      • chrism
        Posted October 7, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I’m waiting eagerly to learn something interesting about that. For years I told my diabetic patients that they could indulge in artificially sweetened drinks and foodstuffs, but I might have been wrong. Perhaps the evil insulin resistance isn’t mediated by your pancreas being bombarded with too much glucose, but evolution has provided a shortcut via which sweet taste substitutes for blood glucose. It does seem that zero calorie soda consumption raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and I’m keen to learn how that works. Bet you are too, Jerry, if only because such a shortcut would provide more evidence for why evolution is true!

        • Posted October 7, 2017 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

          The problem is that the data are inconclusive. It wouldn’t be wise, I think, to tax something for health reasons if there are no good data suggestion an inimical effect on health. If it turns out there are bad effects, I’ll eliminate or cut down on my own consumption.

  18. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Another point making this tax offensive is – Most states removed taxes from food at the grocery store long ago. Idea being, food is kind of a necessity and people must eat. It is a big part of the budget for the poor. So let us stick it to the poor with a food tax.
    Now, I know that Alabama did not remove the food tax but then, what did you expect?

    • Posted October 7, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Coke is hardly food. I like coke and drink it once in a while. But these companies make an Insane profit and are blind to the harm they incur. It is sold in the Arctic to folks who have no idea, food is food there and suffer major tooth decay and diabetes.It is sold in African countries. The companies deplete the local water supply and sell it back to the community in the form of coke.
      I know this is not the thrust of the current discussion but it is part of the whole scenario. Sure we should be able to be responsible for our own choices and no nanny states and free choice etc etc. Many communities in the USA have equally little understanding and young kids teeth do not survive beyond five years. So I cannot feel comfortable complaining about a very minor tax if it helps reduce consumption by young kids in inner cities. I do not know where the line is between nanny state and personal responsibility but companies need some reining in and maybe a tax is a first step.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Swede trying (likely failing) to interpret:

    Nanny State

    A modern, progressive, responsible state with healthy citizens …

    As always, I don’t think the government should be in the business of regulating our diets. Cigarettes, well, maybe, because when used as intended they are dangerous; but many people drink soda in moderation. Are the rest of us going to be penalized because of a daily Coke or Diet Coke?

    … which is actively promoting healthy diets. To do so under the above label based on evidence of course. In cases where sufficiently many are sufficiently hurt because they cannot moderate (which could have biological causes), then they could take restrictive measures.

    This is no different than, say, building codes. They too could be unnecessary if people built with moderation. Alas…

    • Mark R.
      Posted October 7, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      Nanny State is more about the government giving advice or passing laws that control people’s lives, esp. when it comes to food, smoking and drinking.

  20. chewy
    Posted October 7, 2017 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    The good citizens of Santa Fe defeated a do-gooder “soda” tax of 2¢ per oz last spring. Highest turnout for an election — and this was a special election costing nearly $100,000, with a few million spent on both sides (Bloomfield the NY carpetbagger, and the pop industry). Soundly defeated. Still reverberations in Santa Fe politics as incumbent mayor declines to run, and past forces align themselves. So silly! We had to wait over 45 minutes to vote on this stupid proposal, which was set as a special to take advantage of low voter turnout (traditionally); and they linked early childhood education as the beneficiaries. What? not kittens and puppies?!??

  21. Diane G.
    Posted October 8, 2017 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Yay for the repeal!

  22. Posted October 8, 2017 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    It appears that when the use of a product is regarded as a vice, the government’s typical response is to force itself into position as a business partner, extorting a share of the provider’s profits for itself. That seems like a flagrant non-sequitur to me.

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