I have admittedly been a long-time skeptic that taxes on the foods and beverages some consider unhealthy would be effective. But in May of 2023, I posted about data from Oakland, California suggesting that its tax on sugar sweetened beverages may have worked to reduce product consumption. Now there is more data, from four more cities, that seems to suggest these so-called “sin taxes” might indeed reduce consumption.
Researchers looked at taxes on sugar sweetened beverages introduced in five cities in 2017 and 2018 and compared them with control groups from other cities, tracking the data over two years. The prices of the sugar sweetened beverages increased by an average of 33% with the vast majority of the cost associated with those increases (92%) passed along to consumers. Both price increases and corresponding volume decreases were observed “immediately” following introduction of the taxes. And the study controlled for the possibility that consumers might simply cross the border to make cheaper purchases. In the zip codes adjacent to the five taxed cities, “there was no statistically significant evidence that purchases had increased in those neighboring areas.”
What does this all mean? As the researchers note: “Scaling [sugar sweetened beverages] excise taxes across the US would likely generate significant population health benefits and medical cost savings.” So, stay tuned. A sugar tax could be coming to a city near you in 2024.