Mexico may impose Richmond-style soda tax

Hold the Jarritos and forget Mexico’s drug problems — our neighbor to the south is declaring war on waistlines.

Inspired by the failed 2012 “soda tax” proposed in Richmond, Calif., Mexican officials announced last month a proposal to tax each sugary beverage one peso, or 8 cents, across the country.

The motivation, like it was in Richmond, is to curb soaring rates of diabetes and obesity. According to a 2013 United Nations report, 32.8 percent of Mexicans are obese, more than any other country with a similar population.

Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a former Richmond council member behind the city’s soda tax, visited Mexico City last month to share campaign insights with local watchdog group El Poder del Consumidor.

During a press briefing with Mexican media, Ritterman — a cardiologist — told critics the beverage tax will certainly affect the poor, but the cost outweighs doing nothing at all:

“For a poor person, the tax is regressive. But diabetes is even more regressive.”

Ritterman pointed out poor communities, like those in Richmond and Mexico, are more likely to suffer from obesity and illnesses related to sugar overconsumption.

Last year, University of California researchers found a soda tax throughout the state would drop the consumption of sugary drinks by 20 percent and decrease diabetes in poor and minority communities by 8 percent.

If the projections are accurate, a soda tax could help save countless lives in Mexico also.

Aside from the shocking obesity rate, Mexicans are the highest consumers of soda in the world per capita: on average, one person consumes 163 liters of soda per year.

In 2010, Mexico also topped a list of 34 countries with the highest rate of diabetes at 10.8 percent, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

While the health benefits are undeniable, it will be interesting to see if Mexico’s soda tax will play out like it did in Richmond, with Big Soda bankrolling huge campaigns to crush its opposition.