What a big tax on soft drinks can do


The soda tax in Mexico has been highly effective despite a very modest price increase. Consumption of soda is down 12 – 17% in a year. Imagine what a big tax would do for public health.

NYT: What a Big Tax on Soft Drinks Can Do

Obviously Big Sugar is still fighting any tax initiative as if their very lives depend on it, just like Big Tobacco used to do (before they lost):

In other news, Coca-Cola is spreading doubt about the harm of sugar in yet another important way. It turns out that leading scientists who champion the “obesity paradox” – the controversial idea that minor weight issues are good for health – are massively funded by Coke, to the tune of millions of dollars, distorting the science:

VOX: The obesity paradox: Why Coke is promoting a theory that being fat won’t hurt your health

The only way to get rid of this massive distortion of the science once and for all is to stop Coca-Cola from making massive profits while harming people’s health.

Without the massive profits, Coke can’t pay millions of dollars to distort the science or politics. They can’t fund thousands of scientists, experts or lobbyists any more, to hide or distort the truth. That’s another way a big soda tax is going to improve the world.


  1. Fred
    Why can't we leave health choices up to individuals? Provide all of the relevant information and let individuals decide for themselves. In a free society, taxes should never be levied with the express purpose of encouraging a certain behavior. The government (at least here in the USA) exists to protect its citizens from threats, both foreign and domestic. Sugar is not a threat. It can do nothing to you without your explicit consumption. Now, if the science shows sugar to be as addicting as say, alcohol, then maybe it needs to be elevated to the same status as alcohol, with measures preventing the sale and consumption to/by minors. The common argument made here is that obesity, heart disease and diabetes are becoming an epidemic that will end up costing us billions if not trillions of dollars in treatment.

    Here's the deal... the fact that I'm willing to take care of you does not give me the right to dictate how you should live. If anything, the only right I have in this situation is to withhold monetary assistance should you choose to ignore my advice. Which, is exactly how the health insurance companies should proceed.

    Coca-Cola is not evil. They are a business, and as such, exist to make money. Of course they are going to sponsor studies and advertising that promotes their product. That's what businesses do. If anyone is to blame here, it is the unscrupulous research organizations that have sold their integrity to the highest bidder.

  2. robert

    The government is already meddling with things in a sinister way, by subsidizing stuff that gets preferably turned into CRAP (HFCS, corn, wheat, sugar beets, sugar cane...).

    So even if You and I shun the bad stuff (sugar, processed foods...), we ARE still paying for it via our taxes! Why pay for unhealthy stuff you neither want nor need? Why pay extra taxes so that your sugar-addicted neighbour may guzzle down gallons of soda for cheap - effectively using Your money to do so? Where is the benefit for society in that? I'd rather have the state pump money into vegetable farmers (broccoli, salads, avocado, tomatoes and the likes) producing food that everybody can eat without ill effects on their health, than do the same for potatoes & all varieties of grains & other precursors of sugar.

    This is insane!

  3. Nick
    Some related news from the UK; Following on from his documentary on sugar (www.channel4.com/programmes/jamies-sugar-rush) and well supported petition to levy a tax on sugary drinks (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106651), Jamie Oliver has had the opportunity to speak to the Health Committee (http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/health-committee/news-parliament-20151/childhood-obesity-strategy-second-evidence-session-15-16/), reiterating the benefits of a tax on sugary drinks to people potentially in a position to do something about it.
    Reply: #13
  4. Lori Miller
    Soda consumption has been declining for many years. Soda doesn't have the cachet that it used to--it's is about as cool as a Sony Walkman. Sweet tea and energy drinks have taken the top spots.
  5. Margaret
    Surely energy drinks have just as much or more sugar in as what you call soda? (I'm in the UK and we just call them 'fizzy drinks' or coke or pepsi) I don't know what you mean by sweet tea, but presumably that has sugar too? I'm sure it isn't what we would recognise as builder's tea anyway, if it is seen as cool!!

    It seems that the drinks companies are trying to hide the sugar/HFCS in other products, so we need to target all of these products, not just coke.

  6. Valerie
    Where is the data on public health in Mexico?

    You say the tax has been highly effective, but the end goal of the tax was not really to reduce consumption. It was to improve public health. Have you seen any data on overweight/obesity rates, diabetes, or even cavities? I have not. I'm pretty sure if there had been an improvement, it would be all over the news.

    There have been enough blunders in public health policies over the past few decades, I wish we would at least have learned that pretty theories don't always hold up in real life.

  7. Devlin
    What a terrible idea! You know the low-fat crowd has been trying to pass "fat taxes" for the past few decades - imagine how much we'd be paying for our (perfectly healthy) steaks and butter if they had their way! Free people get to choose to be healthy and the government of a free people has no business using tax policy or well-intentioned legislation to discourage or "nudge" us into eating the way they want us to.

    I love this site for many reasons but am very troubled by this heavy-handed and fascistic tendency toward advocating the use of governmental force (through taxation) to move people away from sugar. Remember, this is the same government who's been wrong about almost everything to do with food/nutrition for decades. We're better served to get them out of our stomachs entirely and spend our energy winning over the minds of the masses with science and success.

    Reply: #12
  8. Lizzie
    I say tax it even more than suggested. The profits can go to educating our future generations about how to outlive their parents in a sustainable way.

    There are so many arguments made by various people here and some feel more sustainable than others - yes it's about making your own choices in life but some aren't educated enough to make these choices properly. Some turn the other cheek while others are just ignorant, and then health revelations occur only once you get a proper health scare or when it's already too late.

    So yeah, if I'm gonna pay taxes let my share go to organic farmers, education and preventative holistic care, let the guzzlers pay for their future med bills.

    Reply: #9
  9. bill
    Sounds just like something a vegan would say,
    but regarding animal fat. Be careful what you
    wish for.
  10. Christopher
    I respectfully disagree with Dr. E on a sugar tax. As many have pointed out, we could easily have a tax on butter, eggs and red meat if the diet dictocrats had their way. I rarely eat sugar and I don't feed it to my children except on special occasions. My kids know that soda and sweets are bad for them and they actually call out their peers that drink soda and eat candy. I didn't even have to teach them that, I keep them full on whole milk, full fat cheese and whole foods. To them drinking soda is a strange and foreign concept, far different than my childhood of skimmed milk, margarine and lots of soda. Cigarette smoking didn't change because of taxes, a social change that viewed cigarette smoking as unhealthy and anti-social reduced cigarette consumption. The taxes came when cigarettes became an easy target to be taxed. We need to focus on education for real food diets not taxes.
    Reply: #11
  11. Bjarte Bakke Team Diet Doctor
    Christopher, I agree education is the key thing, but is there no room for extra "nudging" provided by taxing or other methods? How we you be sure taxes haven't affected cigarette smoking? I think this is a difficult topic but currently I believe that taxing especially harmful substances can be beneficial.
    Reply: #18
  12. Bjarte Bakke Team Diet Doctor
    Devlin, I respect your views. Do you think it's likely that sugar will turn out not to be harmful for humanity? If not, why is it necessarily a bad idea to tax sugar? Personally, I'm quite convinced that sugar is in fact harmful for humanity and I believe taxation could be one of several ways in which to reduce demand for it. Is it the best way? Of that I'm way less certain.
    Replies: #14, #15
  13. Bjarte Bakke Team Diet Doctor
    Thanks Nick. Every morning I look for relevant news for the DietDoctor.com site. If you want to tip me, tweet to @DietDoctorNews.
  14. bill
    Bjarte Bakke said: "Personally, I'm quite convinced that sugar is in fact harmful for humanity..."

    Don't you understand that others can be
    "quite convinced that [meat or some other food
    you like or need] is in fact harmful..." and then
    advocate for taxing it?

    What is it about that that you don't understand?

  15. Devlin
    Bjarte - I think we are all in agreement that sugar is harmful at the levels it is consumed in most western countries. That is not my point. Politicians and bureaucrats are the last people I want setting and enforcing policy on my food (look at how bad they are it - or anything else they get their hands on). It is my right to overindulge and my responsibility not to. I personally do not want to impose my beliefs on others and damn well don't want my vegan friends imposing theirs on me.

    Furthermore, just because most people can agree that sugar is harmful at high levels does not mean that most people cannot enjoy it (safely) at modest levels without incurring any ill health effects. That's where education and influence come in. Nobody forced or nudged us off of sugar, right? Are we so much smarter or more self-controlled than the peasant masses that we now need to impose sanctions on them? Let's resist the temptation to turn into the fascist food police that are well-intentioned vegetarian and vegan friends are. Instead, let's continue to spread the word and lead by example. Let's influence with our wallets. I already see the beginning of a shift in the marketplace - food companies want to sell us stuff - let's tell them what we want to buy!

    Keep on rockin' in the free world!

  16. Chris the Barbarian
    What actually could work would be to stop subsidizing corn that mainly gets used for HFCS. Taxes won't make people eat less.

    And with the current Dogma, I fear that there will be a dietary-fat tax on the "bad fats", like SFA and any high Cholesterol food, and those "healthy" vegan Oils won't be taxed.

    No, I don't want the Government to tell me what I should eat, and certainly not taxing my preferred foods, even though a Sugar Tax, or even just a Soda Tax wouldn't harm me in any way, since I eat HFLC ;).
    Therefore, I can't support any tax on food. The Road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    Reply: #17
  17. Apicius
    Absolutely right, Chris the barbarian. Subsidies given to farmers for corn, soy and wheat is what creates the cheap junk food to begin with. The real solution to the root cause is taking the government out of the picture and stop providing subsidies.
  18. Christopher
    "How we you be sure taxes haven't affected cigarette smoking?" Exactly, we don't know. Cigarettes were on the decline before the taxes, and continue to this day. There are many who switched to cigars or started buying black market or roll your own to avoid the taxes and they are not accounted for. I will agree that having a discussion on taxing sugar is beneficial at least to increase awareness and share or develop ideas. Cheers.

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