Should sugar be taxed?


Fact Box

  • According to the CDC, excessive consumption of sugary drinks is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout.
  • A sugar tax is a tax on distributors of sugary drinks, the handful of companies that contract with beverage makers to district their products, not a tax on local retailers. 
  • Berkeley’s 2015 study suggested that sugary drink taxes may be effective in shifting consumers to purchase healthier beverages without causing undue economic hardship. 
  • Research indicates that soda taxes are highly regressive, causing low-income households to pay nearly twice as much as the wealthy.

Eugenia (Yes)

High-sugar diets are associated with numerous health problems and are linked to unhealthy behaviors like poor sleep and exercise habits. Adding a tax to sugary products like soft drinks, candies, and processed snacks will help discourage the consumption of these dangerous, excess sugars.

Sugary drinks, one of the biggest culprits, are a tasty and affordable beverage option marketed to people in lower socioeconomic status (SES) brackets, especially adolescents and teenagers who are at risk of developing poor life-long health and dietary habits.

While they tend to cost less, making them more affordable for lower-income individuals, the adverse effects of sugary foods and drinks on health are overwhelming. A sugar tax will discourage the purchase of such products and encourage healthier habits, such as drinking water instead of soda and eating fresh fruits and vegetables instead of candy and processed snack foods.

While it's arguable that taxing such products will create a negative financial impact on low-income consumers, similar taxes already in effect have shown this not to be the case. A sugary-beverage tax (which includes soft drinks, sugary juices, and many coffee drinks) went into effect in Berkeley in 2015, resulting in a 9.6% decrease in the purchase of such beverages in local grocery stores. Conversely, the sale of beverages not affected by the tax increased by 3.5 % without any significant increase in overall spending totals on behalf of the consumer. This indicates that the tax encouraged consumers to make healthier beverage choices without negatively affecting their budgets.

Hetal (No)

A sugar tax would disproportionately affect those within lower socioeconomic status (SES) brackets. People within higher brackets are unlikely to feel the direct impact of the tax on their wallets, while those counting pennies most definitely will. Many high- sugar foods, such as cake, are not consumed daily and taxing them will only serve to penalize the poor--and possibly serve as a barrier to afford these infrequently-purchased delicacies for special occasions.

Let us also look at the example of soda/pop, which is most often consumed on a daily basis. Soda has been one of the central problems for health conditions like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. However, the truth is that those who can comfortably afford to drink pop will continue to buy it, just as well-off smokers will continue to buy cigarettes despite the tax.

The sugar tax has the potential of backfiring. Those in lower SES brackets may still buy sugary foods despite taxation, leaving less in their wallets for daily essentials. The tax also leads to fewer options as sugary foods are on the cheaper side compared to healthier snack counterparts. The tax is both an ethical concern and classist as it targets the poor in health reform while ignoring the wealthy who have the financial stability to reduce their sugar consumption. Without providing cheaper healthy alternatives or a way to cause impactful behavior change in the wealthy, the tax would ultimately only serve to empty the pockets and stomachs of the poor quickly.

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