Right: Coca-Cola, or Coke, as represented in this vintage advertising poster, is something more than the "average" soft drink, being the "pause that refreshes". The underlying message is that a Coke some time during the day is desirable, perhaps even necessary.
Arguments against placing a tax on soft drinks and other sweetened beverages
1. It is the total calorie intake that contributes to overweight and obesity
It has been claimed that focusing on just one component of the diet popularly consumed by Australians is misguided.
According to this argument, overweight and obesity are the products of the total number of calories regularly consumed and the nature of dietary choices made. Thus, it is claimed, it is inappropriate to focus on one element of a diet in the mistaken belief that this will overcome the problem.
Geoff Parker, the chief executive of the Australian Beverages Council, has stated, 'No one food or beverage causes obesity and this is why we think this particular campaign is somewhat misguided.'
Mr Parker went on to claim, 'Focusing on a single source of kilojoules in the diet hasn't worked in the past and ignores the concept of the total diet...
No one food or beverage causes overweight or obesity. Consuming more kilojoules than what is burnt through physical activity is what leads to weight gain.'
Expanding on this point, Mr Parker has further claimed, 'All kilojoules count regardless of the source. The industry produces a range of hydration options to suit everybody's lifestyle and all beverages can be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet supported by regular physical activity.'
In 2006, the former chief executive of the Australian Beverages Council, Tony Gentile, also stated, 'For everybody, consuming a variety of foods and beverages in moderation is the key to health and weight control. Ultimately, there is no bad food - just bad habits.'
The same point was made in the American context by Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola, North America. Ms Douglas has stated, 'No one single food or beverage is responsible for obesity. While the volume of regular-calorie soft drinks sold declined 10 per cent from 2000 to 2008, according to industry publication Beverage Digest, obesity trends increased during that same period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.'
2. Other commonly consumed drinks and snack foods contribute to overweight and obesity
It has been claimed that to place a tax only on soft drinks when so many other foods and beverages commonly consumed by Australians play a part in overweight and obesity would be discriminatory.
Geoff Parker, the chief executive of the Australian Beverages Council, has stated, 'We're not anti-tax but we're against discriminatory taxes.'
A similar point has been made by Jeff Rogut, the executive director of the Australasian Association of Convenience, has stated, 'Applying tax to certain items because those items have an emotional association to obesity in the minds of some groups is not only flawed, it's short-sighted and lazy.'
The same point has also been made in the United States. Dr. Michael J. Rinaldi of the Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute has questioned the fairness of singling out soft drink (referred to in The United States as 'soda') for punitive taxes.
Dr Rinaldi asked, 'If soda is taxed, should this tax also be applied to all "fast food", confections, or portion size? Why limit it to food? Should we not tax all behaviours linked to health care expenditures? Why not deter gun and motorcycle ownership or sedentary lifestyle through taxation?'
It has further been claimed that if there is a reduction in the consumption of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, depending on the nature of the tax, consumers may simply increase their consumption of fruit juices and flavoured milks, both of which have high sugar contents.
It has also been noted that a tax on soft drinks and other sweetened beverages would not affect people's consumption of fast foods in all its many forms which have been significantly implicated in studies of the causes of overweight and obesity.
3. Soft drinks can form a valuable contribution to an adolescent's diet
It has been claimed that the sugar content of soft drinks means that when consumed in moderation they can be a source of immediate energy for young people.
The Australian Beverages Council, which represents soft drink makers, has stated, 'Let's not forget as well, these drinks do contain energy and that's exactly what kids need to run around, particularly in high schools.'
Referring to a somewhat older age group, Geoff Parker, the chief executive of the Australian Beverages Council, has also claimed, 'It's no surprise that young adult males are the people that consume full-sugar varieties the most. They are the young tradies, the apprentices, out there with physically active lifestyles. No one food or drink causes obesity.'
The Australian Beverages Council has further claimed that it has developed its range to increase the number of diet or no sugar options available so that those who wish to further control their sugar intake can do so.
In a media release issued in December, 2007, the Australia Beverages Council stated, 'The industry has increased the number of new beverage options with low or no-calorie content and light versions of existing beverages. We've also increased the choice and availability of individual packaging sizes, and labelling initiatives to help Australians make an informed choice.'
The Council has further stated, 'There is a non-alcoholic beverage to suit every dietary need and every social occasion including bottled waters, electrolyte drinks, vitaminised waters, carbonates both with sugar and with zero sugar, iced teas and coffees, fruit juices and fruit juice drinks, energy drinks etc.'
Summarising its position, the Australian Beverages Council has stated, 'Different people need to select different beverage types to meet individual health, taste and hydration needs and preferences.'
4. Soft drinks are no longer targeted for sale to primary school children
In 2006 Australian Beverages Council members voluntarily adopted a policy not to market sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages to primary schools.
Australia Beverages Council members also claim they do not advertise these beverages in "C" time on television or in television programs where a majority of primary school age children are viewers.
In addition, the Australian Beverages Council has said its members are committed to not engaging in any direct commercial activities in primary schools and to withdrawing sugar-sweetened beverages from secondary schools where required.
In August 2006, Tasmanian Senator Guy Barnett congratulated the Australian Beverages Council for its decision to withdraw sugary soft drinks from primary schools.
Senator Barnett had worked with the industry for more than two years on this issue. On August 29, 2006, the Australian Beverages Council Ltd announced that sugar sweetened carbonated soft drinks will not be provided to primary schools and will not be directly marketed to primary school age children except for special events such as sports days and school fetes at the school's request.
The Australian Beverages Council said that over the next two years it would phase in a voluntarily withdrawal of soft drinks containing sugar from all primary schools and only provide them to high schools on request.
The then chief executive of the Australian Beverages Council, Tony Gentile claimed in relation to sponsorship by soft drink manufacturers, 'People want us to sponsor activities which assist children to exercise. If we did not, the losers would be the children.'
The Australian Beverages Council states that all its members abide by the requirements of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) and the Food Standards Code. In addition, the Australian Beverages Council has adopted as policy the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) voluntary guidelines for Advertising Directed at Children and is a signatory to the Code of Practice on Nutrient Claims and to all other voluntary advertising industry codes of practice.
5. The best means of combating overweight and obesity is public education
The Australian Beverages Council has indicated its belief that education is the best means of ensuring that people eat and drink appropriately and maintain a healthy weight.
On its Internet site the Australian Beverage Council has stated, 'The Beverage Industry is committed to promoting nutrition education and physical activity, especially with schools and local communities.'
On its Internet site the Australian Beverages Council further states, 'The Council believes that consumer nutritional concerns caused by misinformation about the range of the products offered need to be corrected by ensuring that accurate information about the nutritional value and impact of various beverages are made available to consumers.'
The Council believes that the Healthy Eating Guidelines developed by the Australian Government's Health Department should be widely distributed and promoted. The Council includes these Guidelines on its Internet site.
It cites the guidelines noting 'To eat a healthy diet it is important to eat a variety of foods everyday from each of the following food groups: bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles; vegetables, legumes; fruit; milk, yogurt, cheese; meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes.'
Supporters of soft drink consumption argue that unless consumers are aware of the importance of balanced nutrition and make appropriate consumption choices, it would not matter if soft drinks and related beverages were taxed. The issue is not what people eat, but how much of each component of their diet they consumer.
The Union of European Soft Drink Associations has stated, 'If governments wish to improve the health of populations they need to take a holistic approach and work with public health authorities, schools, employers, civil society and other stakeholders to change attitudes and behaviour.'
The Union further noted, 'Experts from the World Health Organisation to the European Commission acknowledge that rising obesity levels are due to a range of factors. Modern lifestyles expend less energy than those of our counterparts in the 1970s - more cars, less walking, labour saving household appliances, more sedentary employment, more sedentary leisure time... There are no bad foods as humans need a balance of nutrients to stay healthy ... However, there are bad diets where certain nutrients are over-consumed and others eaten in insufficient quantities.'
In summary, the Union argues, 'Education in optimal nutrition is the key to ensure that people know how to feed themselves and their families.'