Voters have rejected soda taxes many times in the past few years. Still, pro-tax activists continually suggest that higher taxes on beverages and foods will improve our health.
We here at Sip & Savor have pointed out often that no scientific evidence exists proving that taxes on soda improve public health. Now we are seeing more studies that back this up.
The latest comes from Europe, where public health officials rightly concerned with the challenge of lowing rates of obesity and diabetes backed so-called “sin taxes” on products they felt were high in sugar, fat and sodium. The thinking was that a higher price would get people to change their diets and improve public health.
But a study commissioned by the European Union on the effectiveness of the taxes on foods and beverages in four EU states – Finland, France, Netherlands and Hungary – found that the taxes led to no discernible improvement in public health. Among the reasons? People switched to cheaper brands, or found other types foods and drinks with the ingredients they wanted that were not taxed. The study concludes: “More research is needed” to fully assess the impact food taxes have on buyer behavior and the economy.
A writer in Canada’s National Post referred to this study and others is making the case that Canada should reject moves by activists there to impose taxes on foods and beverages. One study, Cheap Donuts and Expensive Broccoli, estimated what would happen if a tax of 100% were placed on unhealthy foods. The authors concluded that body mass index (BMI) would fall by less than 1% of average BMI, wrote Patrick Luciani, co-author of XXL: Obesity and the Limits of Shame.
“We have to admit that obesity is much more complex than most people think and that top-down government policies such as taxes don’t work,” Luciani wrote.
In Mexico, where a 10 percent tax was placed on sugar-sweetened beverages in 2014, there are those who say surveys show that consumption of sodas dropped in the first few months of the year. But that has yet to be proven and there is certainly no evidence that better health will result.
“All we know so far is that the tax is bringing in more revenue - about 20% than originally estimated - while leaving the poor with a regressive tax. If there's a better word for that than 'failure,' I'm not sure what it is,” Luciani wrote.
If we want to get serious about health, it starts with education – not laws and regulation. Politicians should focus on what matters most – education, jobs and the economy – and leave the grocery shopping to us.