An open letter to Santa Fe’s City Council: the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax will only make the poor even poorer!

I am writing with extreme concern about the proposed “Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Ordinance” and I’ll get right to the point: The ordinance speaks, at great length, about the health risks associated with consuming sugar but keeps a painful fact hidden within the Pre-K window dressing: Poverty is the main factor in an unhealthy diet and is also the main association with developing addictions.

I hold a Master’s degree in Education of At-Risk Youth and I have spent the better part of my adult life fighting Addiction (I am a licensed alcohol and drug counselor) and I have both researched and seen first hand the problem of substance villification and how it interferes with the development of health.  While I fully support Pre-K education programs, the ordinance doesn’t speak to any type of actual programming.  It’s just simple window dressing to illicit an emotional response such that the facts remain hidden.  What are the facts?  Well, the reality is that distributors who pay taxes of sugary beverages will pass those costs to retailers who will then pass those costs to consumers.  Which consumers?  Those very people who live in poverty.

It’s been a widely known fact that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to choose sugar and sugary drinks than those children who are not impoverished.  I can safely say that taxes and higher costs don’t do much to curb use.  Alcohol and cigarettes are taxed in the State of New Mexico, yet both still pose increasing health risks.  Furthermore, the State of Colorado taxes legal marijuana at a high rate (21%), and people are using in droves.  So, to suggest that the ordinance will “protect the health, safety, and well-being of all residents of the city of Santa Fe” is simply silly.

As governing body members, you are well aware of the low-voter counts that elected you.  A proposed special election will probably have even lower turnouts.  Therefore, a small minority of Santa Fe residents will decide to place a higher economic hardship on those who will be purchasing sugar-sweetened beverages.  i am begging you all to reconsider this ordinance.  I realize that looking behind the Pre-K window dressing is scary, but I am willing to testify that making it more expensive to buy sugar-sweetened beverages will not deter the poorest segments of out city from buying them.  It’ll just mean that there will be less money to go around.

Lastly, vilifying a substance doesn’t every yield positive outcome.  Again, substance villification is another smoke-and-mirror tactic that eliminates our collective responsibility is creating the circumstance through Addiction develops.  I am begging you all to strike down this ordinance and find other ways to fund city Pre-K programs.  Making it even more expensive to live in Santa Fe will just increase the numbers of boarded up businesses and create more addicts.  Then, again, you’ll do whatever you want out of fear of PACS.  But the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax will drive Santa Fe into a really bad place.

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