Soda taxes are often sold on the empty promise that they will make people healthier. But in a piece for U.S News & World Report, Scott Drenkard and Morgan Scarboro of the Tax Foundation remind us of some simple truths about these taxes: they are regressive, raise grocery prices and don’t make people healthier.
“The first unfortunate truth that proponents often gloss over is that soda taxes are regressive,” write Drenkard and Scarboro. “They disproportionately harm low-income people. In fact, poor people don't just spend more on the tax as a percentage of their income, they actually pay more in real dollars as well.”
The authors point to analysis by the Tax Foundation which found that “a 10 percent soda tax could burden high income families by $24.29, while poor families would be harmed nearly twice that amount of $47.38.”
The authors also explain that cutting one item from the diet is not a solution for better health. They point to research which concluded that a tax of 58 percent would only decrease Body Mass Index by 0.16 points. According to Drenkard and Scarboro, “For a six-foot-tall person, this is the equivalent of less than a pound.”
Then there are the additional pressures that such a tax would place on businesses and families by further complicating the tax code. “Policymakers should consider whether it's worth imposing these administrative costs for a tax that places a higher burden on lower-income households and provides potentially limited public health benefits,” say the authors.
Some may tout soda taxes as the panacea to our public health challenges, but according to Drenkard and Scarboro, “the research indicates that there doesn't seem to be a tax shortcut for a slimmer America.”
Solving public health challenges like obesity takes a lot more than just slapping a tax on one item and washing your hands of the issue. Instead, the authors say, “If we really want citizens to live healthier lives, we will have to continue to educate them on the effects of their nutritional choices, and let people find better ways to control their own health.”