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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson February 7, 2011

Americans Against Food Taxes' ad during Super Bowl raises specter of soda, snack taxes

Along with Doritos and Bud Lite commercials on Super Bowl Sunday, viewers in the Washington area saw a political ad against taxes on food and soft drinks. We wondered if the ad was correct that politicians are seeking to tax sodas and food, so we decided to put the claim to the Truth-O-Meter.

The ad features a woman talking to the camera as she shops in a grocery store. It has been airing for several weeks in selected markets on cable channels such as CNN.

"Feeding a family is difficult enough in today's economy," the woman says. "Now, some politicians want the government telling me how I should do it. They want to put new taxes on a lot of groceries I buy, like soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks, even flavored waters, trying to control what we eat and drink with taxes. Give me a break. I can decide what to buy without government help. The government is just getting too involved in our personal lives."

At that point, a narrator says, "Government needs to trim its budget fat and leave our grocery budgets alone."

First, some background on the group airing the ad, Americans Against Food Taxes. The group is spearheaded by the American Beverage Association, which represents the makers of sodas and other drinks. According to Advertising Age,  the American Beverage Association decided to form the coalition in June 2009, when the idea of taxing sodas and other sweet beverages was being considered as a way to fund the Democratic health care bill. The coalition includes dozens of members, including 7-Eleven, Inc., Burger King Corp., Domino’s Pizza, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, McDonalds, the National Association of Convenience Stores, Snack Food Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, Inc.

Although the food and beverage tax was not included in the health care law, the group has continued to run advertising to forestall any effort to revive such taxes. People watching the ad might think Congress is still considering such a proposal at the federal level. But if you listen closely, the ad played during the Super Bowl is careful to refer to "politicians" and "government" rather than "Washington" or "Congress." (By contrast, other ads the group has run have mentioned Washington.)

The ad is correct that politicians in some cash-strapped states are considering food and drink taxes.

In the last two years, many states and cities considered such taxes. According to the Campaign for Healthy Kids, an advocacy group that generally favors such efforts, taxes on soda were enacted in Washington state and proposed -- but not passed -- in Mississippi, New Mexico and the city of Philadelphia.

In New York, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, a New York City Democrat, has proposed a tax on foods high in calories, fat or carbohydrates, for the past several legislative sessions.

Most state lawmakers were sworn in only a few weeks ago, so we can't predict how many states will consider soda-tax proposals this year. But already, legislators have introduced bills to impose or raise the tax on sodas and/or snack foods in Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia, according to separate legislative tracking by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a pro-business advocacy group, and Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

So while Congress has not been active on this proposal since it was dropped from the health care law, it's been proposed in many states.

The ad is correct that "some politicians … want to put new taxes on a lot of groceries." We find the statement True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Americans Against Food Taxes, "Gimme a break" ad, Jan. 13, 2011

Legislative database, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, accessed Feb. 7, 2011

Advertising Age, "Beverage Lobby Launches Campaign Against Soda Tax," Sep. 25, 2009

Washington Times, States eye ‘sin’ taxation as salvation for budgets, Jan. 16, 2011

HealthDay News, "The Fat Tax: A Controversial Tool in War Against Obesity," Jan. 11, 2011

National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Budget Update: November 2010," Nov. 2011

Campaign for Healthy Kids, "2010 Session Report," accessed Feb. 7, 2011

Congressional Quarterly, "Soft Drink Taxes Face Hard Battle," Feb. 7, 2011 (CQ subscribers only)

Interview with Justin Wilson, senior research analyst with the Center for Consumer Freedom, Feb. 7, 2011

Interview with Arturo Perez, budget policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, Feb. 7, 2011

E-mail interview with David Adkins, executive director of the Council of State Governments, Feb. 7, 2011

E-mail interview with Roberta R. Friedman, director of public policy at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, Feb. 7, 2011

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Americans Against Food Taxes' ad during Super Bowl raises specter of soda, snack taxes

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