Huntsman Alumni Magazine

Spring 2013

Another Perspective on the “Soda Tax”, from USU Alum Dr. Richard Daines

Dr. Richard F. Daines, health commissioner for the state of New York from 2007-2010, and a USU alumnus, worked under then Governor David Paterson in support of a proposed New York state public health policy to add the tax to sugary soda. Dr. Daines spoke and wrote on the subject, up until his untimely death at age 60, in February 2011.

A headline in the New York Times back on April 4, 2010, read, “Health Official Willing to go to the Mat Over Obesity and Sugared Sodas.” That health official was Dr. Daines. (see his bio below)

Dr. Daines was defending a proposed penny-an-ounce tax on sugared sodas. The article continued, “The state budget office estimates such a tax would raise $1 billion a year when fully in effect, and reduce consumption by 15 percent, an estimate based, Dr. Daines says, on industry price elasticity models.” The tax proposal was supported by the health care workers’ union and the Greater New York Hospital Association, partly because the earnings were designated to be used to stave off health service cuts.

People in the soft-drink industry had argued that the link between soda consumption and obesity hadn’t been proved. Dr. Daines replied, “It’s obviously scientifically plausible that if you reduce consumption of excess calories, you reduce obesity.” The proposed tax failed to pass, and a revised version of the bill changed the sales tax to an excise tax that would have brought in some $450 million to help stave off imminent health cost cuts. The revised bill also failed to pass.

Today, in 2013, 33 states have a soft drink tax, but New York isn’t one of them. In addition, one third of U.S. adults are considered clinically obese, along with 20% of kids. Some 24 million Americans have type-2 diabetes, often related to poor diet, and 79 million have pre-diabetes symptoms. A group of health advocates asked the FDA in February “to regulate the amount of caloric sweeteners in sodas and other beverages, arguing that the scientific consensus is that the level of added sugars in those products is unsafe.”1 The medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was estimated at $190 billion for 2005, in the Journal of Health Economics.

Most recently, in February 2013, New York State Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling struck down a separate law formulated in May 2011 that would have banned the sale of sugary soft drinks larger than 16 ounces in New York City. The ruling overturned the law one day before it was to be implemented, with Justice Tingling calling the proposed limits “arbitrary and capricious.” The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed against the law by the American soft-drink industry.

USU Alum Dr. Richard Daines Had a Noteworthy Healthcare Career

Richard Daines grew up in Logan, graduated from Utah State in history in 1974, and then graduated from Cornell Medical School in 1978. He practiced medicine in the Bronx for 22 years at St. Barnabas Hospital, making good use of the Spanish he learned on his LDS mission in Bolivia. He then served as president and CEO of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, one of the leading teaching hospitals in New york, from 2002-2007. From 2007-2010 he was New york state health commissioner. In that position he oversaw a staff of 6,000 and a budget of more than $50 billion. He died in 2011, at age 60.