The New York Times Fears Underground Soda Sales

Bootleggers, circa 1920. Photo from Michigan History Magazine.

The New York Times warns about the potential for illicit, underground bootleg sales of soda in a story about New York City's health commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden advocating for a soda tax.

Frieden is running off his experience with taxing cigarettes, and even the Times recognizes that it hasn't been super-effective, with an estimated one million New Yorkers still smoking despite insanely high cigarette taxes. But then the Times has to get all stupid: "There is also a booming market in bootleg cigarettes, and some worry that a soda tax might lead to similar underground sales."

This is all based on Frieden's argument in the New England Journal of Medicine that "sugar-sweetened beverages... may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic," citing a single study at Yale University and one article from the trade magazine Beverage Digest that increasing the cost of soda decreases sales. The tax Frieden is proposing: a penny per ounce, which comes to an added 12 cents per can, 16 cents per bottle.

We can't help but wonder who is the "some" that Times author Anemona Hartocollis cites as worried about the underground soda movement. And the suggestion that a 10% increase in the cost of a can of soda — hell, even a 50% increase — would lead to any kind of illicit underground soda sales is just ridiculous. Underground cigarette sales make sense: They're aggresively addictive, for starters, and at $10+ for a legit pack versus $6 or $7 for a street pack (we're propositioned on an almost daily basis, on the street, the subways, inside bars, etc.) it kind of makes sense. Soda's not like that! Silly Times, made-up stories are for The Onion.

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