Listening to activists like Kelly “Twinkie tax” Brownell or Michael “Carrot-Juice House” Jacobson, you might think that the key to solving America’s obesity problem is a soft drink tax. You might also think that such a tax is well supported. But those are both myths, and we have found two recent publications showing just that.
First up, from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s in-house journal Preventing Chronic Disease — last seen publishing an activist wish-list of alcohol control-inspired food regulations — researchers from Yale, Emory, and the University of Washington are pouring cold water on claims that soda taxes will reduce obesity rates. Commenting on the present state of scientific research, they write, “Evidence suggests caution in enacting sugar-sweetened beverage taxation legislation with a core purpose of obesity reduction.” The researchers note that consumers’ typical response to soda taxes is to substitute other caloric beverages, and while they hope that substitutes will be healthier, we would note that research from Cornell University has suggested that alcoholic drinks can be the substitute too.
And from the school of public health bearing the name of New York’s nanny-mayor (Michael Bloomberg), researchers are fretting about people’s responses to activists’ arguments. In short, nobody’s buying them. The researchers found that of nine possible justifications for a soda tax, precisely zero received majority agreement. On the other hand, 60 percent of respondents agreed that soda taxes are arbitrary (understandable when soft drinks provide only seven percent of our daily calories) and nearly that many saw them as a government cash-grab.
These findings tell us that soda taxes don’t work and that people know it. So it is no surprise that soda taxes are persistently unpopular, and not just with anti-tax conservatives. Unfortunately, they are still popular with revenue-addicted politicians. We hope that even more research confirming what we’ve long known convinces legislators to find another path.