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New Study Finds Soda Taxes Reduce Consumption

New Study Finds Soda Taxes Reduce Consumption


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Soda in Philadelphia is now 40 percent more expensive—here’s how consumption has changed.

After first making headlines in New York City in 2010 (and generating heated responses from health professionals and the beverage industry), the concept of a "soda tax" has grown into a reality for almost nine million Americans. But one new piece of evidence might settle the debate of whether taxing soda could improve the health of consumers once and for all.

In 2017, Philadelphia became one of the eight cities in the nation to implement a soda tax. Each soda in the city was taxed 15 cents per ounce—an estimated 20 percent upcharge from the usual price. A team of researchers within Philly's Drexel University closely followed the effects of the tax over the last year and published a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine after finding strong evidence that the tax had a direct effect on how much soda residents were drinking.

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The study shows the soda tax led to a 40 percent reduction in daily consumption among local residents in the first two months after it went into effect. The researchers also found an immediate 38 percent drop in the total number of sodas sold and consumed in a 30-day period.

Using data collected from 1,000 men and women in Philadelphia, researchers compared their responses to those living in nearby cities like Trenton, New Jersey and Wilmington, Delaware. The responses showed that Philadelphia residents were 40 percent less likely to drink soda after the tax was passed, and nearly 65 percent less likely to drink energy drinks, Time reports.

Researchers said that diet beverage sales didn't suffer as much as other categories, and other sugar-heavy fruit drinks that weren't taxed—such as lemonade or cranberry juice—didn't suffer a sales slump at all.

Some believe the evidence collected so far isn't enough to say these taxes are "working”, and the study is unclear on whether the steep decline in sales continued after the first two months in 2017, but the evidence mounting in support of taxing sugary soft drinks is getting hard to ignore.

A recent analysis by the World Health Organization showed that a 20 percent tax on junk food or unhealthy drinks leads to a long-lasting 20 percent decrease in consumption. With Philly's tax at upwards of 40 percent, we're thinking (and hoping) that it might be a while before sales return to normal levels.


Taxing sugar-sweetened drinks DOES work: Volume of soda purchased in Philadelphia fell by 42%

Philadelphia’s tax on sugary beverages seems to have worked, as the volume of purchases fell two years after the tax was put in place, a new study finds.

In January 2017, the city placed a 1.5 cent per ounce tax of sugary and artificially sweetened drinks such as soda.

Research led by the University of Pennsylvania found that the volume of purchased drinks fell by nearly 42 percent in the 24 months after the tax went into place.

Additionally, researchers found that soda taxes reduced the consumption of sugary drinks in comparison to peer cities.

While soda taxes are common in some other countries, their rollout throughout many cities in the U.S. has just begun in recent years.

If successful, these types of tax can help reduce obesity and cut health care expenses in the country, the team says.

A new study found a 42% decrease in volume of soda purchases in Philadelphia after the soda tax went into place and 69% decline in calories compared to Baltimore

Soda taxes are slowly becoming more common around the country, and they are believed to be able to reduce rates of obesity and other health conditions

For the study, which was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers compared purchased made at small shops in Philadelphia to purchases made in Baltimore.

Baltimore was chosen as the control city due to similar racial and economic demographics, while also being a geographically close enough city to compare but far enough that travel between the cities is not a routine occurrence.

KIDS ARE FALLING OUT OF LOVE WITH SODA, REVEALS CDC

American teenagers are increasingly shunning fizzy drinks, a CDC report revealed.

Soda drinking among high school students in the US dropped by over one-third from 2007 to 2015.

Meanwhile there has been a uptick in the number of American children drinking diet soda.

Researchers say the new figures are encouraging as sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the largest contributors of added sugars to adolescents’ diets.

However, they noted that the overall prevalence of Americans drinking sugary drinks, at any age, remains high and more approaches need to be put into place for the downward trend to continue.

The report, as part of the CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality report, took its data from the YRBS – a US survey that provides representative data on health behaviors among students in grades nine to 12.

The survey asked the high schoolers how many times that had drunk ‘a can, bottle, or glass of soda or pop, such as Coke, Pepsi, or Sprite’ and not counting diet drinks.

Researchers found that the number of students drinking soda daily had significantly fallen from 33.8 percent in 2007 to 20.4 percent in 2015.

Researchers needed some distance between the cities, as one common criticism of soda taxes are that residents can just travel across city lines to avoid the tax.

They analyzed 58 small independent stores in Philadelphia and 63 in Baltimore.

In total, 1,904 people in Philadelphia and 2,834 people in Baltimore took part in the study.

A member of the research team stood outside these stores three times a day for two months, asking everyone who appeared over the age of 13 if they had purchased a food or beverage item.

The ounces per sugary beverage purchased in Philadelphia was 41.9 percent lower than it was in Baltimore – an estimated 6.12 fewer fluid ounces purchased.

This also resulted in the number of calories purchased from beverages and high-sugar foods declining by 69 percent in the City of Brotherly Love.

Researchers found that one big reason for the falling numbers was the increased price per ounces in sugary drinks.

On average, regular sized drinks in Philadelphia had a markup of 28.7 percent, while family-sized drinks had a mark up of 50.6 percent.

The markups likely incentivized Philadelphians to purchase smaller drinks.

People in lower income neighborhoods in Philadelphia were also 43 percent less likely to buy sugary drinks than those in Baltimore.

There was also a 41.4 percent decrease in purchases from people with lower education levels.

The researchers are confident in their findings, and say they believe that the results show that there can be a long-term decrease in soda consumption across cities that implement these types of tax.

Other studies analyzing other cities have found similar results as well.

The first soda tax in America was instituted in Berkley, California, and led to a 10 percent decrease in the sales of sugary drinks.

Meanwhile, a 2019study found that these kinds of taxes could reduce the countries obesity population by 630,000 and even save the country $1.8 billion in health care costs.

The taxes also help bring in revenue to fund certain programs, like in Philadelphia where the funds are used for education initiatives.


Soda tax can cut consumption, new study finds

Soda makers for years have lived in fear of local soda taxes that would hurt their businesses. When one passed on Cook County, Ill. where I live, a massive lobbying effort was launched that successfully repealed it.

Should sugar-sweetened beverages be taxed?

Advocates of such taxes have cast them as public health issues, but here it was cast simply as a way to raise needed tax dollars. The thinking was the health argument is a hard one to sell to consumers who don’t want to give up their soda.

When soda taxes are enacted, they do cut consumption. The latest study on the topic, looking at a soda tax enacted by Berkeley, California, in 2014 shows that once again.

Consumption there dropped by half in the three years following the law’s passage, found a study done by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Residents of neighboring Oakland and San Francisco drank about the same number of sugary beverages in 2017 as they did in 2014, the surveys found. This suggests that changes in drinking habits were unique to Berkeley and not signs of a regional trend in drinking habits unrelated to the tax, researchers conclude,” according to a story on the report on Business Insider.

Health advocates who think soda consumption is bad for our health will rejoice at this news, but the beverage business is likely to now fight even harder to prevent such taxes in other locations.


Soda taxes increase prices but lower consumption, studies find

Local surcharges on sugar-sweetened beverages are becoming the latest "sin tax" designed to reduce our consumption of unhealthy products, like soda, tobacco and alcohol. Driven by the growing health concerns of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, the goal is to improve public health while generating tax revenues.

Commonly called soda taxes, they typically also include sweetened energy, sports and fruity drinks and presweetened tea and coffee -- leaving water, milk and natural juices untaxed. If you live in the Bay Area, you've probably heard of them since Berkeley, San Francisco, Albany and Oakland imposed soda taxes in the last several years. But do these kinds of surcharges work?

"There's a lot of debate about whether to pass those kinds of taxes and how to design them," says Stephan Seiler, PhD, an associate professor of marketing, in a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business news article. "How high should the tax rates be? What type of products should be covered -- regular or diet or both? And should the tax be levied at the city or county level?"

Two studies recently investigated the long-term effectiveness of beverage taxes. The first study analyzed sales data from over 1,200 retail stores in Philadelphia, which imposed a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages starting in 2017. As part of the multi-institutional team, Seiler says they wanted to learn how the tax affected things like tax revenue and people's financial burdens, and use that to contribute to ongoing policy discussions.

As expected, the Philadelphia study found that beverage manufacturers passed on almost all of the tax to consumers by raising prices by 34 percent. As a result, local demand of the taxed drinks dropped by 46 percent. But that didn't necessarily mean that residents consumed less. Instead, they traveled four or five miles to purchase sweetened beverages outside the taxed area. Taking this into account, the researchers found the demand actually dropped by only 22 percent.

Another recent study analyzed the effectiveness of Berkeley's 1-cent-per-ounce soda tax using beverage frequency questionnaires from 2014 to 2017 -- polling 1,513 people in high-foot-traffic areas in demographically-diverse neighborhoods in Berkeley, as well as 3,712 people in Oakland and San Francisco before their soda taxes were implemented for comparison. This multi-institutional research team included Sanjay Basu, MD, an assistant professor of medicine, health research and policy at Stanford.

After implementation of the Berkeley tax and corresponding increase in prices, the researchers reported a 52 percent decrease in consumption of sweetened drinks and a 29 percent increase in water consumption. The comparison groups in Oakland and San Francisco had similar baseline drink consumptions but saw no significant changes.

One difference between these soda taxes concerns diet soda, which is taxed in Philadelphia but exempt in Berkeley. It may be easier to switch from regular to diet soda, so Seiler suggests that a better design is to tax regular sodas but not their diet counterparts and to levy the tax across a wide geographic area.

In fact, some countries -- including Mexico, France, United Kingdom and many others -- have implemented a national soda tax. "That type of tax would be harder to avoid," Seiler says.


Chicago 'soda tax' cut consumption, boosted health care funds

Chicago's brief and now-defunct soda tax did cut the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, a new study finds, along with raising funds for public health initiatives.

From August to November 2017, when the tax was in effect, the volume of soda sold in Cook County dropped 21 percent and the tax raised nearly $62 million, nearly $17 million of which went to a county health fund.

"The evidence suggests that taxes on sweetened beverages may be an effective policy tool for reducing sweetened beverage consumption," said lead researcher Lisa Powell. She's director of health policy and administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.

"The evidence also shows that households will undertake tax avoidance strategies, such as cross-border shopping, which will dampen the impact of the tax," Powell said.

The Cook County levy was 1 cent per ounce on sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks. After two months, pressure from the public and extensive lobbying by the American Beverage Association forced the Cook County Board of Commissioners to rescind the tax, the Washington Post reported.

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City, said research has found a strong association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, tooth decay and gout.

"These beverages taste good but are loaded with calories and have virtually no nutritional value," she said. "Do we really want our kids, family members or ourselves suffering from preventable chronic illnesses when we can easily drink other beverages?"

The jury, however, is still out on whether cutting back on these drinks will have an impact on the obesity epidemic and its consequences.

"We do not have enough data yet to say for sure that soda tax reduces the risk of chronic diseases," Heller said.

One can hope that fewer purchases result in less consumption, which could ultimately help reduce the rates of obesity and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, she said. "But these conditions take years to develop, and thus, it may take years to assess the effects of a soda tax," Heller said.

For the study, Powell's team used data from supermarkets, grocery, convenience stores and other outlets in Cook County, Ill., comparing that data with St. Louis City and County, Mo., where there was no tax.

The researchers also found no significant increase in purchases of untaxed drinks.

Objections to taxing sugar-sweetened drinks include that the tax is regressive and affects poorer consumers most, and also that it's an example of the "nanny state" trying to limit choices.

Powell said, "Lower-income individuals are more frequent consumers of sugary beverages and therefore disproportionately bear more of the harms associated with consuming sugary beverages."

Lower-income consumers also tend to be more responsive to price increases and will reduce their consumption of sugary drinks to a greater extent than higher-income people and, in turn, will benefit more from the associated health benefits of reduced consumption. "Thus, while the tax may be economically regressive -- from a health perspective it is progressive," she said.

It is not the government's business to determine what people drink, Powell said. "But governments do play a role in helping to correct what economists call 'market failures' that may lead consumers to over-consume certain products, such as sugary drinks or tobacco," she noted.

The goal of the tax is to help offset the negative health consequences that are associated with these drinks, which end up being paid for in part by other tax revenue, Powell said. "We have seen this same policy used as a means to help reduce smoking," she added.

No states have a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. But the cities of Boulder, Colo. Philadelphia Seattle and four California cities: Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, do tax these drinks.

If you like bubbly drinks choose seltzer, Heller said. "Choose plain or flavored seltzers or add a few tablespoons of 100 percent juice or an herbal tea for flavor. Water, tea and unsweetened plant-based milks are also good options," she advised.

The report was published online Feb. 25 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.


New Study Suggests Raising Taxes On E-Cigarettes Could Encourage Traditional Smoking

Sin taxes are excise taxes imposed on goods or behaviors - like booze and cigarettes - that lawmakers deem harmful. In addition to raising revenue, the idea is that bumping taxes high enough should trigger a slowdown in the behavior. But what happens if taxpayers simply exchange the "sinful" behavior - not for a "better" response - but for another bad behavior? That's precisely what a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health suggests: raising taxes on e-cigarettes in an attempt to curb vaping may cause people to purchase more traditional cigarettes.

Economists talk about the response to sin taxes in terms of elasticity. If the idea is to reduce bad behavior, it's critical to figure out how high you can raise the tax to get people to reduce consumption. For example, when studying soda taxes, economist Roland Sturm concluded that "Small taxes will not prevent obesity." Sturm determined that taxes would need to hit about 18 cents per dollar to affect behavior.

The same general idea was used to look at e-cigarettes. A team of researchers from six universities examined the effect of e-cigarette taxes enacted in eight states and two large counties on e-cigarette prices, e-cigarette sales, and sales of other tobacco products. Using data from 35,000 national retailers from 2011 to 2017, researchers found that for every 10% increase in e-cigarette prices, e-cigarette sales dropped 26%. But the same 10% increase in e-cigarette prices caused traditional cigarette sales to jump by 11%.

And while that sounds simple, it's not that easy. First, these aren't exactly apple-to-apple comparisons. E-cigarette products can vary wildly: some are disposable e-cigarettes, while others are starter kits or refill cartridges. And, the study notes, the number of cartridges, liquid, and nicotine may be very different - even within products of the same type. The corresponding taxes are just as mixed with some levied in proportion to the liquid volume in each e-cigarette product, while others are ad valorem taxes (meaning based on the value). In contrast, traditional cigarette taxes are typically levied in terms of dollars per cigarette.

The math is even more complicated. It's the stuff of data analysis flashbacks/nightmares:

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But the conclusion, according to the study, may be simple: e-cigarettes are an elastic good. And since e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes are economic substitutes, e-cigarette sales may increase as traditional cigarette taxes go up, and conventional cigarette sales may increase as e-cigarette taxes rise.

Currently, nearly half of the fifty states have an e-cigarette tax, which has significantly raised the price of e-cigarettes. Congress is considering enacting a federal tax of its own on e-cigarettes. That concerns study co-author Michael Pesko, an economist from Georgia State University. "We estimate that for every e-cigarette pod no longer purchased as a result of an e-cigarette tax, 6.2 extra packs of cigarettes are purchased instead," he said.

"Although vaping-related illnesses are a public health concern, cigarettes continue to kill nearly 480,000 Americans each year, and several reviews support the conclusion that e-cigarettes contain fewer toxicants and are safer for non-pregnant adults," said Erik Nesson, an economics professor in the Miller College of Business at Ball State, and a member of the research team.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 3% of adults in the United States used e-cigarettes in 2017. Using e-cigarettes - or vaping - among adolescents has grown even more rapidly, with almost 27.5% of high school students using e-cigarettes in 2019.

And while vaping-related illnesses are a public health concern, according to the CDC, traditional cigarettes continue to kill nearly 480,000 Americans each year. Some studies suggest that e-cigarettes contain fewer toxicants and are safer for non-pregnant adults than conventional cigarettes.

That poses an interesting dilemma. If raising taxes on e-cigarettes - the long-term effects of which are not wholly known - simply chases smokers to traditional cigarettes - which the CDC has determined to be "the leading cause of preventable death" - is it worth it? The research team believes that the issue will continue to be important for policymakers to consider as they develop e-cigarette related tobacco control policies.

You can read the study, "The Effects of E-Cigarette Taxes on E-Cigarette Prices and Consumption: Evidence from Retail Panel Data," from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The research team was made up of six economists: Dr. Erik Nesson at Ball State University, Dr. Nathan Tefft at Bates College, Dr. Michael Pesko at Georgia State University, Dr. Catherine Maclean at Temple University, Dr. Charles Courtemanche at the University of Kentucky, and Dr. Chad Cotti at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.


Following suit

Seattle enacted a soda tax at the start of 2018, and by August of last year, the city reported over $10.5 million in earnings, though city officials were unsure how the tax was affecting consumer behaviors.

When Philadelphia tried to implement a soda tax, the city was sued by the American Beverage Industry, residents, and local businesses, all claiming that the tax would be unconstitutional. Though the bill went into effect in early 2017, lawmakers were still unsatisfied, and were working to overturn the bill.

However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had the final ruling, upholding the city’s tax on sweetened beverages. After spending nearly two years in the legal system, the city will be using the money generated by the tax to fund pre-kindergarten and community programs.

Kristen Dalli is a New York native and recent graduate of Marist College. She has worked as a writer and editor for several different companies and publications, including Thought Catalog, The Oddysey, Thomas Greco Publishing, and several travel blogs.

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Professor Bryan Bollinger finds retailers not passing along tax to consumers

Soda’s empty calories are a prime target in the war against obesity. Taxes on sugary drinks are an increasingly popular tool among local governments hoping to curb consumption. Berkeley was the first city in the country to approve a soda tax on distributors, a one-cent-per-ounce tax which was instituted in March 2015. But the health benefits of the tax depend on retailers passing on at least some of the price increase to consumers, and for consumers to drink less of them as a result. Bryan Bollinger, an assistant marketing professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, worked with Steven Sexton, an assistant professor of public policy and economics at Duke, to study whether the tax was effective at reducing consumption in Berkeley.

Bollinger discusses the new research in this Fuqua Q&A.

What effects did you find the tax had on soda consumption in Berkeley?

We found much of the cost of the tax is not being passed along to consumers, and consumption is not significantly dropping. We estimate a soda tax reduced calorie intake among soda drinkers in Berkeley by only a few calories per day.

Fewer than half of supermarkets changed the price of soda in response to the tax, and prices at chain drug stores did not change at all neither did consumption. On average, about 20% of the tax was passed on to supermarket consumers. Though there is some evidence the tax reduced supermarket soda consumption, these effects are not robust – we cannot be sure they even exist. Not only that, we estimate half of the reduced consumption we found is offset by increased consumption at a nearby supermarket that is not subject to the tax.

How could you be sure there weren’t other factors at play?

To evaluate outcomes in Berkeley relative to what would have happened if no tax were imposed, we compared Berkeley with other, similar locations that don’t have a soda tax. We used Nielsen scanner data from 2013-15 to observe millions of prices before and after the tax went into effect.

We compared price and consumption changes for each of seven stores in Berkeley with dozens of stores in California but not in the Bay Area, along with dozens more beyond California, matching stores based on price and quantity trends before the tax was implemented. It was important to go farther afield for a suitable control group because stores near Berkeley could be affected by the strategic responses of distributors, retailers, or consumers to the tax.

Taxes on alcohol and tobacco have helped reduce consumption. Why did a local tax on sugary drinks not work in the same way?

It is often assumed success of state and federal taxes on tobacco and alcohol can be replicated in local taxes for soda. But city taxes are different from statewide and national taxes, and sodas are a different product. A city soda tax is easy to avoid if consumers can readily purchase soda outside the city, as they can in Berkeley, where most workers travel outside the city for their jobs.

Because many consumers regularly purchase sodas, retailers facing a city soda tax likely worry about losing not just soda sales, but sales on entire shopping baskets of many of their customers who prefer one-stop shopping and go elsewhere to find cheap soda.

We found chain retailers also like to charge the same prices across all of their stores, so they may not change prices in response to a tax that impacts only some of them.

Retailers also like to charge the same price for similar products like Diet Coke and regular Coke. They may not change this practice, nor increase diet soda prices just because the cost of regular sodas goes up when a tax is introduced.

How do your findings differ from those of other studies? What makes you confident in your results?

Other studies have found different results, including that stores pass on more of the tax, as lawmakers intended. But some of them used single snapshots of prices before and after the tax and so could mistake standard variations in pricing – for instance, those due to promotions – with changes in average prices due to the tax. They also sampled prices of only select products. We used comprehensive data including millions of observations across hundreds of days for the full set of products. Prices of store brands in particular were completely unaffected by the tax. Another study used scanner data for local stores recently bought by a national chain. these studies relied upon comparisons to nearby stores that may have been affected by the tax.

What can policymakers learn from this research?

They can’t assume these taxes will work the same way in every location. Since Berkeley, similar taxes have since introduced in larger cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago, with different socio-economic profiles. It may be that their residents cannot as easily avoid the tax by shopping outside the city. This might cause retailers to make different decisions about whether to pass on price increases. And if prices are set so as to be consistent within large areas, taxes in larger cities or state taxes may be more effective in raising retail prices and curbing consumption of sugary beverages.

If consumption doesn’t drop, the tax may be ineffective in improving health. And even if it does generate new revenue for the municipality, those revenue gains could be lost to declining sales if the tax prompts people to shop outside the city.


Chicago's Short-Lived 'Soda Tax' Cut Consumption, Boosted Health Care Funds

MONDAY, Feb. 24, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Chicago's brief and now-defunct soda tax did cut the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, a new study finds, along with raising funds for public health initiatives.

From August to November 2017, when the tax was in effect, the volume of soda sold in Cook County dropped 21% and the tax raised nearly $62 million, nearly $17 million of which went to a county health fund.

"The evidence suggests that taxes on sweetened beverages may be an effective policy tool for reducing sweetened beverage consumption," said lead researcher Lisa Powell. She's director of health policy and administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.

"The evidence also shows that households will undertake tax avoidance strategies, such as cross-border shopping, which will dampen the impact of the tax," Powell said.

The Cook County levy was 1 cent per ounce on sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks. After two months, pressure from the public and extensive lobbying by the American Beverage Association forced the Cook County Board of Commissioners to rescind the tax, the Washington Post reported.

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City, said research has found a strong association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, tooth decay and gout.

"These beverages taste good but are loaded with calories and have virtually no nutritional value," she said. "Do we really want our kids, family members or ourselves suffering from preventable chronic illnesses when we can easily drink other beverages?"

The jury, however, is still out on whether cutting back on these drinks will have an impact on the obesity epidemic and its consequences.

"We do not have enough data yet to say for sure that soda tax reduces the risk of chronic diseases," Heller said.

One can hope that fewer purchases result in less consumption, which could ultimately help reduce the rates of obesity and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, she said. "But these conditions take years to develop, and thus, it may take years to assess the effects of a soda tax," Heller said.

For the study, Powell's team used data from supermarkets, grocery, convenience stores and other outlets in Cook County, Ill., comparing that data with St. Louis City and County, Mo., where there was no tax.

The researchers also found no significant increase in purchases of untaxed drinks.

Objections to taxing sugar-sweetened drinks include that the tax is regressive and affects poorer consumers most, and also that it's an example of the "nanny state" trying to limit choices.

Powell said, "Lower-income individuals are more frequent consumers of sugary beverages and therefore disproportionately bear more of the harms associated with consuming sugary beverages."

Lower-income consumers also tend to be more responsive to price increases and will reduce their consumption of sugary drinks to a greater extent than higher-income people and, in turn, will benefit more from the associated health benefits of reduced consumption. "Thus, while the tax may be economically regressive -- from a health perspective it is progressive," she said.

It is not the government's business to determine what people drink, Powell said. "But governments do play a role in helping to correct what economists call 'market failures' that may lead consumers to over-consume certain products, such as sugary drinks or tobacco," she noted.

The goal of the tax is to help offset the negative health consequences that are associated with these drinks, which end up being paid for in part by other tax revenue, Powell said. "We have seen this same policy used as a means to help reduce smoking," she added.

No states have a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. But the cities of Boulder, Colo. Philadelphia Seattle and four California cities: Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, do tax these drinks.

If you like bubbly drinks choose seltzer, Heller said. "Choose plain or flavored seltzers or add a few tablespoons of 100% juice or an herbal tea for flavor. Water, tea and unsweetened plant-based milks are also good options," she advised.

The report was published online Feb. 25 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.


A Tool for Fighting Obesity

Sugary beverages currently contribute about 7 percent of all calories consumed in the U.S., and those calories provide very little nutritional value. The connection between soda consumption and obesity is well-documented, and the U.S. is the most overweight country in the world, according to the international group the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

One question, Auchincloss says, is whether consumers will revert to their earlier soda drinking habits after the initial tax fanfare has died down. Auchincloss notes that her team’s study was conducted immediately after a huge media blitz, during which many Philadelphia residents were made aware of the new tax.

But Auchincloss says there is reason to believe the decline may be longer-lasting. The researchers point to the impact of Mexico’s sugary beverage tax—there has been a consistent drop in soda consumption in the two years following its implementation.

And according to an analysis by the World Health Organization of the effect such taxes have on the intake of junk foods and drinks, a 20 percent levy generally leads to a lasting 20 percent decrease in consumption. The Philadelphia tax adds an even higher percentage to the price of a sugary drink, with some products increasing in price as much as 40 percent.

The Drexel team is conducting a follow-up study with the same survey respondents.

“We want to see if the same shifts in sugary beverage consumption hold up after a year,” Auchincloss says.


Huge New Survey Finds That Sugary Soda Taxes Work

Soda taxes—though they actually apply to other sugary drinks as well—have proven controversial, to say the least.

There’s no national soda tax in the United States, but also nothing to stop individual localities from instituting their own. Some have been passed and then repealed, some remain on the books, and some have failed at the ballot box, but one question appears to have been answered: do they actually work ?

The category of drink to which these taxes apply is usually referred to as “sugar-sweetened beverages,” or SSBs. Those include non-diet sodas as well as energy drinks, sports drinks, and some not-so-fruity fruit juices. Focusing on just the USA, many cities have imposed a tax. Philadelphia has one at three cents per ounce, and many other cities—Seattle, Portland, Boulder, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland—have taxes ranging from one cent per ounce to two. New York City attempted to flat-out ban sodas above a certain size, though that ban was eventually struck down. Chicago, too, had a tax briefly, though it was eventually repealed.

A new survey from the University of Otago, in New Zealand, looked at over a thousand studies concerning four American cities with the tax (Philadelphia Portland, ME Berkeley and Cleveland), along with a few international locales (Catalonia, Spain and the entire countries of Mexico, Chile, and France, which have nationwide taxes) to see how effective it really was. The studies examined by the researchers included a wide variety of subjects: purchasing habits before and after the tax, overall sales, and the sales of non-taxed drinks like water.

The researchers found that the tax is, across the board, effective, with a 10 percent tax resulting in about 10 percent less consumption of sugary drinks. There was also about a two percent uptick in the purchase of non-taxed beverages, especially water. They do note that many studies did not examine socioeconomic status, an important variable in any public health review. But overall, the researchers are confident in their conclusion that a tax on sugary drinks results in a decrease in consumption.

There are other debates to be had about taxes like this the soda companies and some libertarian-leaning politicians harp on the restriction of purchasing freedom. But the study is important in taking one playing piece off the table: the question of whether the taxes actually work. It seems they do.