University of Pittsburgh
March 29, 2013

Should There Be a Surtax on Sugary Drinks?

Topic to Be Debated at Pitt April 5

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH—On March 11, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial initiative to limit to 16 ounces the size of sugary drinks sold at restaurants, food carts, and theaters was struck down by a New York State judge.

From 11 a.m. to noon April 5, the William Pitt Debating Union will take up the policy issue of restricting the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages at the Sixth Marcella L. Finegold Memorial Public Debate, titled “Should There Be a Surtax on Sugary Drinks?” The free public event will take place in the Ladies Hospital Aid Society (LHAS) Auditorium on the seventh floor of UPMC Montefiore, 3459 Fifth Ave., Oakland.

This event is the result of a collaboration between the Department of Communication in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the Pitt School of Medicine; it occurs during the Department of Medicine’s Grand Rounds.

Proponents of the surtax proposal note with concern the contribution sugary drinks make to the global obesity epidemic, citing data such as a recent Harvard study finding that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to more than 180,000 deaths worldwide each year. A surtax, they claim, would raise revenue for public health initiatives, nudge consumers to drink fewer sugary beverages, and ameliorate health disparities along racial and socioeconomic lines. Skeptics of the surtax question the effectiveness of top-down economic instruments in changing consumer behavior and argue that there are more useful ways to address unhealthy sugar consumption patterns, such as relocation of vending machines or regulation of soft drink advertising.

Arguing on the affirmative side of the question will be:

            • Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO, Global Policy Solutions; and

            • Sydney Pasquinelli, Pitt graduate student in communication.

Arguing on the opposing side of the question will be:

            • David Just, associate professor, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University; and

            • Timothy Barr, Pitt graduate student in communication.

Moderated by Gordon Mitchell, associate professor and chair in the Pitt Department of Communication, the debaters will field questions from a panel that will include:

            • Lucas Heller, resident, University of Pittsburgh Internal Medicine Residency Program;

            • Vikram Krishnasamy, chief medical resident, University of Pittsburgh Internal Medicine Residency Program; and

            • Oeshae Morgan, Pitt junior majoring in political science and economics.   

The format also allows time for questions from the audience. A video recording of the debate will be available online at beginning April 10, 2013.

The debates are made possible through a generous gift from William Pitt Debating Union alumnus Marcella L. Finegold, who graduated in 1937 from what is now the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. 

For more information, contact Gordon Mitchell at 412-624-1564 or