Sugary drinks are the single-largest contributor to added sugars in the American diet. Their consumption increases risk of type II diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. Experts agree that rising sugary drink consumption has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic, and that reducing consumption is a public health imperative.
Over the last few years, a number of taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages(SSBs) have been proposed, for the purpose of reducing their consumption and raising revenue for cash-strapped public health programming. Two such measures are on the ballots in California, in the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco. The beverage industry is spending millions of dollars to crush these measures, and its PR machine is running in overdrive.
The anti–tax talking points from the beverage industry have been thoroughly debunked by Dana Woldow, Andy Bellatti, Marion Nestle, Mark Bittman, among others, and I’ve even weighed in a few times myself.
But one industry talking point in particular deserves a bit of clear-eyed scrutiny. The industry repeatedly claims that a tax on sugary beverages will not work—that health can’t be legislated, and that education, not regulation will improve health.
Call me crazy, but it seems that the amount of energy being poured into fighting these taxes is a pretty good indication that the industry, with all its well-funded market and consumer research, knows that if sugary drinks begin to be taxed, then consumption of these products will indeed begin to drop. The industry’s unprecedented effort against SSB taxes is itself an argument against the industry claim that they won’t work. If taxes did not have the potential to reduce consumption, the industry would have nothing to worry about.
To that end, I’ll share here a short animation I produced a few months back when some colleagues and I were pondering this refrain from the industry: “Taxes won’t work!”