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Sugary drink taxes just don't work - here's why

Policymakers have various tax levers available, but one they should avoid pulling is a tax specifically on sugary beverages.


These taxes often come with promises to decrease sugar consumption and raise revenue for popular programs. These goals are counterintuitive. If soda taxes were successful in deterring consumption, the revenue stream for popular programs would decrease.

Research has been mixed. In Seattle, where in 2018 city leaders adopted a 1.75 cents per fluid ounce sugary beverage tax, there was little evidence of impact. In fact, research conducted by the city showed that, while consumption of beverages did decline, it declined more in neighboring cities that did not have a sugary beverage tax.


Peer-reviewed research on the Seattle beverage tax also showed a significant increase in beer purchases following implementation, suggesting alternative purchases were not necessarily healthy. Policymakers are essentially using taxes to play sugar whack-a-mole.


Additional data on Philadelphia’s sugary drink tax shows a reduction in sugar drink consumption, but an increase in the purchases of sugary foods. Researchers simply concluded, “the policy can be undermined by consumers changing their sources of sugar.”


Sugary drink taxes are very regressive. Lower income adults consume 40% more sugary drinks each day than higher income adults. Lower income children consumer 2.5 times as many sugary drinks than higher income children. This means low income households are hit much harder by any sugary beverage tax.

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