- A recent Politico-Harvard poll found that 57% of 499 respondents supported taxing soda and other sugary drinks to raise money for preschool and children’s health programs and to help address the problem of obesity. The idea was opposed by 39%, while 4% either did not have an opinion or did not respond to the question.
- The most support for soda taxes came from Democrats (63%), followed by independents (57%), then Republicans (44%).
- Poll results were deeply divided on other food-related issues, with the only clear majority being on the question of whether able-bodied adults without young children should have to work to qualify for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (74% in favor).
So-called "sin taxes" on soda and other sugary beverages have recently passed in some jurisdictions — particularly those with a blue political hue.
Since 2014, eight local U.S. jurisdictions have approved such taxes. It is likely others will also adopt them, researchers from Harvard University and Tufts University said in a study published in the journal Food Policy. Researchers found several similarities in the jurisdictions that passed the taxes. They tended to be Democrat-dominated areas with significant financial support for the pro-tax measure. In addition, city or county leaders tended to support the initiative, and the message behind the tax was that it would help improve public health — not raise money.
The first jurisdiction to successfully pass a soda tax was Berkeley, California, in 2014. An assessment of the first year found that sales of sugar-sweetened beverages declined by about 9.6% and sales of bottled water and other untaxed beverages increased by 3.5%. The penny-per-ounce tax also raised $1.4 million, which was directed to child nutrition and community health programs.
According to the Food Policy study, the only jurisdiction to have successfully approved a soda tax with earmarked proceeds is Philadelphia, which levies 1.5 cents per ounce. A proposed soda tax in Santa Fe, which would have financed an effort to subsidize preschool, failed at the ballot box this past May. However, at 2 cents per ounce, the tax is larger than many others.
Not surprisingly, the beverage industry fights soda taxes wherever and whenever the idea arises. Hit with slowing sales, brands have responded with smaller can sizes. Pepsi stopped distributing two-liter bottles and 12-packs of soda to Philadelphia retailers three months after the city implemented its soda tax. The company still distributes one-liter and smaller size bottles and cans, which incur less of a surcharge. And, with sales down 40% in the city, Pepsi has said it will eliminate 80 to 100 area jobs unless the tax is lifted.
Coke also has been promoting sales of smaller bottles and cans. According to the Tri-State Operating Unit of Coca-Cola refreshments, sales of the company’s 7.5-ounce mini cans were up by 9% last year, while 1.25-liter bottles grew by 9.5%.
However, with state and local governments increasingly feeling the budget squeeze, it's likely that more soda taxes will be referred to voters. Whether they will actually be adopted is another question since voters are not overly fond of taxing themselves — unless it's for a good cause.