Soda companies don’t make people drink too much soda

By Michael d’Oliveira

America has always been a place where individuality and self-determination has to be balanced with the greater good of society. California’s recent prohibition on cities enacting new taxes on soda is the latest chapter in that debate.

But this isn’t an article about why governments should or shouldn’t place additional taxes on unhealthy food and beverage items. They shouldn’t. But that’s another argument for another time. Proponents of soda taxes claim that they decrease demand and contribute to an improvement in health. I don’t have any reason to disbelieve that. But, again, this isn’t an article about that.

This is an article about why we should take responsibility for our own choices and not pretend like we’re victims of some company when we’re really the victims of our own bad choices.

In an opinion piece in The Hill, Larry Cohen wrote, “At the California State Capitol last Thursday, teenage health advocates from Stockton urged lawmakers to stand with communities like theirs and put people’s health over corporate profits.” 

I’m not blind to the fact that corporations often prioritize profits over people’s health and safety. Not all corporations are like that, but some corporations definitely are. But let’s stop framing this “big soda” argument as if we’re all powerless children at the mercy of some corporation. We all have the ability to choose what goes into our own bodies. No adult is a victim here.

There’s also probably a lot of hypocrisy to be found in the people who want soda taxed. I wonder how many of them eat too much red meat. Would they be okay with the government levying additional taxes on their cheeseburgers? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you support one tax on unhealthy items, you logically have to tax the rest. We’re talking greasy pizzas, alcohol, candy bars, pretty much all fast food, and more.

Either way, corporations don’t magically make people want to drink a 50 ounce Big Gulp every day. People choose to do that because they like how it tastes. Unfortunately, the only thing we really should drink, water, is boring.

Does the soda industry know this? Of course? Are they responsible people who have diabetes because they drank too much soda? No. Many people get diabetes because of poor diet choices. And this isn’t smoking in the 50s, when nobody knew cigarettes were bad for them. We’ve had years of scientists and doctors telling us too much sugar causes health problems. There are no more excuses. Part of making good choices is having access to good information. And we have that.

But this isn’t a brush-off of how hard it is to stop drinking too much soda. It’s very hard. Soda is delicious and very convenient. But just because something is hard, doesn’t make it any less of a choice. We love the convenience of soda and other junk food. But we also love the convenience of blaming others for our own problems.