Money & Business

New Fronts in Soda Wars Keep Beverage Association Busy

By / Jun 4, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

New legislation and studies are drawing increased attention to sugary soft drinks, and the American Beverage Association is working to keep its industry’s voice out front.

Between a series of recent studies and legislative action at the state level, the world of soft drinks has been getting a bit fizzier lately.

And the American Beverage Association (ABA) and other interested parties have been out in front on the issue, attempting to push the industry’s message forward.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the response to a flood of recent studies that have drawn media coverage, including:

Food stamps for soda? A study from Stanford University found that a proposed ban on purchasing sugary drinks with food stamps would cut the obesity rate among people ages 18 to 65. But another report, from the Illinois Public Health Institute, argues that people would simply buy sugary drinks with their own cash instead. ABA has traditionally opposed such bans, saying last year: “Education is at the core of changing behavior, not passing laws and regulations limiting choice. The bottom line is: it’s not the government’s job to grocery shop for our families; it’s ours.”

Do diet sodas lead to weight loss? An ABA-funded study found that people who drank diet soda tended to drop more pounds than those who drank just water—a result that surprised even the researchers, who speculated that diet soda may have cut back on cravings. “We did see that people in the diet-soda wing of the study reported less hunger during the trial than those in the water group,” the University of Colorado’s John Peters, a study author, told NPR last month. “[But] we can’t determine mechanism from this trial.” The study’s results raised eyebrows among nutritionists and the public, and they differ from findings of prior studies. Peters said,  “I’m kind of amazed how much people are trying to find a reason not to believe these findings.”

Legislation Bubbling Up

Meanwhile, battles over regulating sugary drinks are ongoing at the state level, with mixed results.

California moves toward labeling: Labels may be in the future for cans and bottles in the Golden State. The California senate last Thursday passed a bill that would require health labels on sugary beverages that would warn consumers about the risks of too much sugar—including obesity and tooth decay. The California-Nevada Soft Drink Association, which opposes the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, told the Los Angeles Times that the labels would “do nothing to change personal behaviors or teach people about healthy lifestyles.”

Illinois rejects soda tax: The Prairie State, meanwhile, voted against a tax on sugary beverages, which would have increased the price of a 12-pack of soda by $1.44. The tax, shot down by the state’s House Revenue and Finance Committee late last month, was opposed by the Illinois Manufacturers Association, which argued that it would hurt jobs and that people would stock up on the drinks in nearby states.

The legislative moves come on the heels of … you guessed it, another study.

This week the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released research that found that consumption of calories in sugary drinks would decrease by 9.3 percent if a tax of four-hundredths of a cent per calorie were added to each drink, and 8.6 percent if a tax of half a cent per ounce were added.

ABA has argued that taxes have proved ineffective at stopping obesity in states where such taxes exist, including Alabama and West Virginia, which rank among the states with the highest obesity rates.

“Over the course of last several years, taxes on soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages have gone nowhere, and it’s in large part because people don’t want it,” ABA spokesman Christopher Gindlesperger told The New York Times.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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