Policy lessons from health taxes: a systematic review of empirical studies

Taxes on alcohol and tobacco have long been an important means of raising revenues for public spending in many countries but there is increasing interest in using taxes on these, and other unhealthy products, to achieve public health goals. This systematic review aims to generate insights into how such taxes can: (i) reduce consumption of targeted products and related harms; (ii) generate revenues for health objectives and distribute the tax burden across income groups in an efficient and equitable manner; and (iii) be made politically sustainable. Findings demonstrate that high tax rates on sugar-sweetened beverages are likely to have a positive impact on health behaviors and outcomes, and, while taxes on products reduce demand, they add to fiscal revenues. If the primary policy goal of a health tax is to reduce consumption of unhealthy products, then evidence supports the implementation of taxes that increase the price of products by 20% or more. Earmarking health taxes for health spending tends to increase public support so long as policymakers follow through on specified spending commitments. Citation: Wright A, Smith KE, Hellowell M. Policy lessons from health taxes: a systematic review of empirical studies. BMC Public Health. 2017;17(1):583.

Soda and Fast Food Lobbyists Push State Preemption Laws to Prevent Local Regulation


When the city council of Santa Fe, New Mexico, placed a measure on the local ballot to tax sugary drinks earlier this year, writes Rob Waters in Forbes, the soda industry responded quickly, pouring $1.3 million into the anti-tax campaign. To cover their bases, industry lobbyists also pursued a back-up plan: they backed a bill in the state legislature to strip local governments of the power to levy such taxes. In the end, the state language was added to another bill that sailed through the New Mexico House before dying in a Senate committee, shortly before Santa Fe voters defeated the local soda tax. But as a growing number of cities consider and increasingly pass soda taxes and other measures designed to combat obesity and promote healthy eating, the food industry has turned to preemption, a strategy used extensively by the tobacco and gun lobbies.

Billionaires vs. big soda: inside the high-stakes soda tax fight

Voters in four US cities will have the rare opportunity on November 8 to decide whether sugary beverages should be taxed, and billionaires and soda makers are pouring huge sums of money into swaying their choice at the polls, writes Vox. San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany, California, all have ballot measures that would levy a penny-per-ounce tax on distributors of sugary drinks. The people of Boulder, Colorado, will also vote on a two-cent-per-ounce excise tax on distributors. The stakes this year — for the beverage industry and for health-minded philanthrocapitalists who want to fight obesity — are high.

What Bernie Gets Wrong About the Soda Tax

“It stunned many progressives to hear Sanders attack Philadelphia’s plan to tax sugary drinks; he called soda taxes regressive and came out swinging”, writes Anne Lappé in Mother Jones. “Like health advocates across the country, I think Sanders got it wrong: These taxes in fact reflect the progressive values he holds dear. It’s the very communities Sanders says he’s trying to protect that have been at the beating heart of campaigns for soda taxes. As a resident of Berkeley, California, the first city in the United States that has passed a tax of this kind, and as someone who has been working to sound the alarm on the epidemic of diet-related illnesses for years, I have had a ringside seat at the battle against Big Soda. And I think that if Sanders had firsthand knowledge of the fight, he too might be moved to see these taxes differently.”

Purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages in Mexico decline after tax

A new study in BMJ assessing the impact of Mexico’s tax on sugar-sweetened beverages found that purchases of taxed beverages decreased by an average of 6% and decreased at an increasing rate up to a 12% decline by December 2014. All three socioeconomic groups reduced purchases of taxed beverages, but reductions were higher among the households of low socioeconomic status, averaging a 9% decline during 2014, and up to a 17% decrease by December 2014 compared with pretax trends. Purchases of untaxed beverages were 4% higher than before 2014 mainly driven by an increase in purchases of bottled plain water.

Slide1[photo: A poster from the campaign for Mexico’s sugar tax. Message says: “With the soda tax, water fountains in schools and public places.”]