Time and again we hear politicians from different parts of the country profess the virtues of a soda tax. Their reasoning ranges from wanting to improve the public health, by cutting back consumption of unhealthy drinks, to talking about how much revenue it will bring in.
This proclivity of nanny statists to push policies to change people’s behavior hues quite closely to Einstein’s definition of insanity: Trying the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Policy makers of all stripes need to abandon their affinity for soda taxes.
Put simply, soda taxes just don’t work. Take Berkeley, California, as an example. The city implemented a one cent-per-ounce tax in 2014, which could increase costs by almost 75 percent. A study conducted at Duke University showed that the tax has had little to no effect on obesity, and other related health issues. Another study showed that caloric intake from taxed beverages only went down six calories per day. It turns out the government cannot tax people into good health.
The story remains the same in Philadelphia, a city that implemented its own soda tax of one-and-a-half cents-per-ounce last year. Instead of taking in increased revenues from consumers, Oxford Economics found that instead the tax drove consumers out of the city. Beverage sales decreased in Philadelphia by 24 percent. Sales increased by 14 percent in the surrounding area. The soda tax, like most all taxes, hurts small businesses in the process. In this case, it also failed to produce the revenue it sought.
Many proponents of soda taxes like to cite Mexico’s beverage tax as a shining example of a successful soda tax. This so-called success is actually non-existent. Just like in Berkeley, a study conducted by the Mexico Institute of Technology’s Center for Economic Research showed that a 1 percent increase in the tax would only result in six fewer calories being consumed per day.
A negligible figure if there ever was one.
Another study confirmed those findings by declaring that the changes that came were “too small to have any meaningful health benefits.”
Politicians who push soda taxes like to champion themselves as being “for the people” against “big sugar” or “big soda” companies and lobbyists. One of the greatest ironies of this debate is that “the people” don’t want the tax. Polls in Philadelphia show 60 percent oppose the soda tax there, and 51 percent would favor a repeal of the law. The taxpayers are feeling the effects and want relief from the economic burden being placed on them.
Despite failing to implement a ban on over-sized sodas, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wouldn’t be left out of the conversation. Using his immense wealth, he fought to keep the soda tax in place in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. Just like New York, his nanny-state approach failed, likely because 87 percent of Cook County residents said they opposed the tax.
Instead of admitting that their desire for these taxes come from a hunger for more power, money and cheap political points, politicians project their own desires onto taxpayers and consumers, hoping to convince them that such taxes are in their best interests. Once they actually feel the effects, such manipulation is impossible.
Beyond the fact that soda taxes are bad policy and wildly unpopular, they are altogether unnecessary. The private sector is implementing effective solutions without the heavy hand of government intervening in the market. Beverage companies are increasing their no-calorie, zero-sugar options for consumers. As of right now, 48 percent of non-alcoholic beverages have no sugar, and 60 percent have zero or minimal calories.
There has also been a push to more clearly list beverage calorie amounts on labels. Now, these numbers can be found on all beverages smaller than 20 ounces. This makes it easier for consumers to make their own decisions about what’s best for them, instead of having those decisions extorted out of them by government bureaucrats. These labeling efforts provide consumer freedom while helping people craft their own balanced lifestyle.
Industry initiatives, unlike government solutions, actually produced meaningful change. The American Journal of Public Health estimates the number of calories shipped to schools decreased by 90 percent between 2004 and 2010, as a result of industry self-regulation. Overall, this has led to the decline in consumption of added sugars by about 24 percent, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. These are the positive results that soda taxes seek, but fail to achieve every time.
If politicians are serious about improving public health and implementing popular policies, they should seek to embolden companies and consumers to develop innovative, market-based solutions. They should resist turning their eyes toward soda taxes that have failed numerous communities across the country. Einstein would certainly have a few words to say about those who can’t fight the temptation.
• Adam Brandon is the president of FreedomWorks.