Water, Beer, and Diet Coke

A Tax Policy for Drinking Less Sugar and More Alcohol?

Will taxing sodas bring us more alcohol consumption? That’s the heretical question raised by a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The answer they found is a bit complicated. But it’s clear that less soda can mean more beer.

Many Choices for Food and Beverages

Food and beverage taxes as a strategy for curbing obesity are attracting much attention these days. The UK has a new tax on sugar sweetened soft drinks taking effect early this year. Advocates in Australia are pushing hard for one. Also, France is now raising the soda tax first introduced there in 2013.

What’s more, people are feeling confident that when you tax sodas, people buy and drink less of them. It’s pretty basic economics. Prices go up. Consumption goes down.

But that’s not the end of the story. People have many choices for what they will eat and drink. So Diana Quirmbach and colleagues took a closer look at what people buy instead when prices go up on different kinds of soft drinks.

They found that an increase in high sugar drink prices leads to more beer purchases. Responses to hikes in prices for medium sugar drinks are different. Alcohol purchases seem to go down in that case. Then finally, raising sugar-free and low sugar drink prices brings more sales of beer, wine, and cider.

Caution Advised

Needless to say, taxing schemes are not a simple answer. Dietitian and author Alan Barclay recommends caution:

In Australia, consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks is declining while consumption of alcoholic beverages is increasing. These new data suggest that an increase in the sugar-sweetened beverage tax in Australia may increase these trends.

The authors’ conclusion that “…a more nuanced approach across a range of beverages may be more effective than a single tax on sugary drinks“ is sage advice.

Obesity, nutrition, and health are linked in a complex dynamic system. Simply taxing soda and cheering as the sales go down might or might not bring better health and less obesity. It all depends on what consumers do instead of drinking soda.

Eyes wide open, please.

Click here for the new study and here for additional perspective.

Water, Beer, and Diet Coke, photograph © Rob Nguyen / flickr

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January 25, 2018

2 Responses to “A Tax Policy for Drinking Less Sugar and More Alcohol?”

  1. January 25, 2018 at 9:37 am, Andrew said:

    This reminded me of Wansink’s ‘Coke to Coors’ study. I searched for it to share it here, and low-and-behold! the first result was archived on ConscienHealth.


    • January 25, 2018 at 12:06 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Andrew!