What's the Story Behind Soda Taxes?

Thursday, October 17, 2019
Kelly Brownell
Kelly Brownell - What's the Story Behind Soda Taxes

Do soda taxes actually work? They actually do in a lot of places already-- just like tobacco taxes! Kelly Brownell of Duke University's World Food Policy Center at the Sanford School of Public Policy explains.

This is part of the Extra Credit YouTube series where Duke faculty answer questions about life's curiosities.



Soda taxes exist in more than 50 countries around the world and in many places in the United States, including big cities like San Francisco, Oakland and Philadelphia. So the question is why do this in the first place? Well, there's been a long history of public health benefit occurring from things like tobacco taxes, so it makes sense to try them with food related products. But why soda in particular? Well, there are a lot of good reasons. We know that there are strong links between consumption of these beverages and risks for things like obesity, diabetes and therefore, heart disease. And we also know that we don't tend to recognize that we've consumed as much as we have when calories get delivered in liquid forms.

One sign that the taxes work is how hard the industry has been fighting them. They basically fought this with every ounce of muscle they have. It's been one of their top priorities and you can see why, they really do decrease consumption. The taxes tend to raise prices from anywhere between 10 to 20%, and that's about how much the reductions in consumption have been and that could lead to pretty significant public health benefits.

One very interesting question is what happens to all the revenue that gets generated from the taxes? In many places, the revenue just gets absorbed for general causes, but in some places like Philadelphia, the revenue has been designated for programs like early childhood education, and the public tends to like that kind of a framing of the tax. I suspect as time goes forward, these taxes will be even more widespread as politicians become more sophisticated in framing them to the public, especially by focusing on the beneficial use of the revenue. So before long, I expect soda taxes will be every bit as familiar to us as tobacco taxes. And the benefit to the public's health will be really very important.