Everything You Need to Know About Soda Tax Ballot Measures

If you live in a state with ballot measures you are likely being bombarded with ads looking to secure your vote on the many propositions to be decided by this year’s election. If you live in the Bay Area, specifically SF proper, Oakland, or Albany, one of these measures will be a “soda tax.” Sometimes marketed as a “grocery tax,” these proposals would impose a $0.01 per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (eg. soda, sports drinks, sweet tea). Since former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed the idea of regulating soda consumption with a soda size cap, cities around the US have had mixed success in passing regulations on soda and other sugary drinks. Earlier this year, Philadelphia became the first major city to pass such a measure, following in the footsteps of Berkeley, but the implementation in Philly remains halted, as the law continues to be challenged. While each city’s proposal has slightly different tax rates, definitions of sugary beverages, and revenue plans, they all have the common goal of reducing sugar sweetened beverage consumption.

For some voters, the choice may seem obvious. Logical thinking suggests making sugary drinks more expensive discourages people from buying them. Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to obesity and type II diabetes, so if fewer people are buying and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, our populations will be healthier. While this idea appears to make sense, it oversimplifies a much more complicated political, social, and health-related issue. Here are a few things to consider before you cast your vote this November in the Bay Area, or elsewhere with many soda tax measures expected to be proposed in the near future:

  1. Soda taxes are considered regressive, meaning that they disproportionately affect the poor, who consume sugary beverages at a higher rate than those of higher socioeconomic status. Soda spending also makes up a greater proportion of their total expenditure.
  1. There is evidence that taxes at this rate work to deter consumers. Studies of the first successfully implemented soda tax in Mexico suggest that soda purchasing initially dropped by 12%, while bottled water sales are up 4%. Drops were most noticeable among those of lower socioeconomic status.
  1. It is very difficult to concretely tie a policy measure, like the ones proposed this November, to a desired health outcome, like reduction in obesity. Even if cities with soda tax measure become less obese, it is almost impossible to say for certain that the tax was the cause.
  1. Some measures allow for innovative use of revenue generated by the tax. In Albany, for example, experts from a variety of fields, including public health, will have input as to how the funds are used. This opens the door for funding to go towards other obesity prevention measures in the community.

It can be difficult to filter through the constant fliers, commercials, and billboards from special interest groups trying to sway your vote one way or the other. Remember to do your own research and make sure to check the funder and publisher of the information you use to make your decision. Whichever side you fall on, be sure to get out and vote this November!

Has a soda tax been proposed where you live? What are your opinions? Share with us in the comments.