Britain’s Soda Tax: Potent Symbolism?
Will Britain’s soda tax turn out to be potent symbolism or just another leaky sandbag on the obesity levee? We are well past the point of changing anyone’s mind on this polarized issue. It’s become an article of faith for some — they’ve discarded any doubts it will work. For others, it’s evidence for the irrationality of policymaking to address obesity. Perhaps to illustrate both points at once, Jamie Oliver danced a jig in the midst of a live BBC interview when the move was announced.
In a thoughtful report published by Vox, Julia Belluz makes a few key observations:
- Taxes might drive soda consumption down further.
- Little evidence shows an impact on health.
- They might have symbolic value.
The question of symbolic value is an interesting one that requires a leap of faith. Even the most ardent fans of soda taxes will admit that they will not, by themselves, solve the problem of excess obesity. But Roland Sturm, a rather hard-nosed economist, points to the example of tobacco taxes to illustrate the potential for indirect effects. He told Vox:
Smoking rates didn’t drop immediately, and taxation had a small effect on consumption immediately. But eventually the taxes had an effect, and with fewer people smoking, it becomes less acceptable to smoke, so there was a feedback loop.
We view soda taxes as an experiment, now ongoing in Berkeley, Mexico, and soon in Britain. Our hope is that objective scholars will study their effects, rather than look for outcomes in which they have a vested interest. And yes, someone who is invested in hyping the dangers of sugar has a conflicting interest, just as someone invested in consulting for the soda industry does.
Click here to read more from Vox, here to read more from the Washington Post, and here to read more from the Atlantic. Click here for a systematic review of the effectiveness of food subsidies and taxes.
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March 28, 2016