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01/16/2014

The war on sugary soda, down Mexico way.

Mexico-soda

Soda drinks for sale on a street in Mexico City, capital of the country now deemed to have the worst obesity problem in the world. (Eduardo Verdugo/AP.)

The war on soda did not catch on in New York City, but Mexico may well be different.

Approved by the Mexican government last October, a new tax on sugar-laden soft drinks is now coming into effect in a country deemed to be suffering the worst obesity problem of any nation in the world. Mexico recently wrested this weighty distinction from the previous record-holder, the United States.

Speaking of which: there is a U.S. angle to this story, too.

As readers may recall, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to impose an outright ban on the sale of sodas in large-size containers in his city but was stymied by a division of the state supreme court that ruled against the measure in July 2013, calling it a case of executive over-reach.

Well, the former mayor – a billionaire many times over – was behind the Mexico tax measure, too. His charitable endeavour, called Bloomberg Philanthropies, underwrote what The Guardian newspaper calls “an unprecedented, hard-hitting advertising campaign.”

The Bloomberg-funded ads were rejected by Mexico’s large TV networks but nonetheless got their message across via cable TV.

The measure imposes a 10 per cent per-litre tax on the sale of sugary beverages. According to The Guardian, Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health predicts the tax should reduce the annual per-capita intake of soda from 163 litres to 141 litres, thereby reducing the incidence of diabetes among Mexicans by more than 600,000 cases during the next 15 years or so.

The government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed the new measure and says it will use revenues generated by the tax to provide clean drinking water in Mexican schools, many of which either have no reliable water supply or must make do with water that is not potable.

Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.

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