by Dana Woldow
In February 2014, legislation was introduced at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to put a 2 cents per ounce tax on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages onto the November ballot. More active recreation programs, more nutrition education, improved access to healthy food, and more PE and nutritious food in schools, would all receive funding from the tax, estimated to bring in about $31 million per year.
The beverage industry has pledged to spend whatever it takes to defeat the measure, as it has in other communities where soda taxes have been proposed. But the arguments used by anti tax advocates generally fall apart upon close scrutiny, putting them into the category of myth, not fact.
Here are some of the more common myths spun by the beverage industry, debunked.
Other resources in support of sugary beverage taxes
Kick the Can
From the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and Berkeley Media Studies Group (2011)
One stop shopping for everything you need to know about soda taxes, including advocacy tools like commonly used arguments against sugary beverage taxes, and frequently asked questions.
Ounces of Prevention — The Public Policy Case for Taxes on Sugared Beverages
Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., and Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. (New England Journal of Medicine, April 2009)
Sugar-sweetened Beverage Tax Toolkit
From the New York City Health Department (2010)
Includes key messages and FAQ
Sugary Drink Taxes
From the Center for Science in the Public Interest
Includes Why Tax Soft Drinks?, Q & A, a calculator to help you estimate how much revenue your state could generate from an excise and/or sales tax on sugary beverages, and more.
Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages
From the American Public Health Association (2012)
Includes problem statement, proposed recommendations, and opposing arguments/evidence.
Two communities, two debates: News coverage of soda tax proposals in Richmond and El Monte
From the Berkeley Media Studies Group (2014), a detailed look at the role the media played in framing the public policy debate around these two 2012 soda tax measures. Includes a list of arguments both for and against soda taxes.
What the research shows
Employment Impact of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes
A 2014 study done at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University Of Illinois at Chicago, found that sugar sweetened beverage taxes do not have a negative impact on state-level employment, and industry claims of regional job losses are overstated and may mislead lawmakers and constituents.
Effect of Prices on Nutrition: Comparing the Impact of Product and Nutrient-Specific Taxes
A 2014 study done jointly by Stanford and Cornell Universities concluded that “a sugar tax in particular is a powerful tool to induce healthier nutritive bundles among consumers.” Stanford assistant professor Matthew Harding, who led the study, said, “What we found was that a tax would definitely reduce the amount of soda households purchased.”
Arguments against sugary beverage taxes
Resources to help familiarize yourself with how the other side is thinking
The Dangers of a Soda Tax
From the Cato Institute (2013). About what you would expect from a think tank that describes itself as “dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.”
Pro-Soda-Tax Arguments Are Contrived, Stale
From the Center for Consumer Freedom (2013). One of Washington-based lobbyist/consultant Rick Berman’s better known organizations. Like him or hate him, Mr. Berman is a force to be reckoned with.
Testimony of Nelson Eusebio, chairman of New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes and executive director of the National Supermarket Association; Eusebio spoke against beverage taxes at a hearing before the NY State Senate Standing Committee on Health (January, 2010).
Testimony of Elizabeth Whelan, President and Founder of the American Council on Science and Health; Whelan delivered her speech, which opposed both banning trans fats in restaurant food and requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, as well as opposing sugary beverage taxes, at the same hearing in NY (January 2010).
Testimony of Kevin S. Dietly, a Principal at Northbridge Environmental and consultant to the American Beverage Association, at the same hearing in NY (January 2010). Mr. Dietly paints quite the doomsday scenario for the presumed impact of a sugary beverage tax.