Should There Be A Tax On Soda? 5 Arguments For And 5 Against

3. Argument against: People will replace soda calories with other calories

Opponents of the tax say that while it’s a good idea to reduce obesity, targeting soda creates a scapegoat that doesn’t address the entire problem. Someone could easily turn to beer or other junk food. While there is discussion around taxing sugar in general, so far most of fingers are pointed at Big Soda. If someone puts down their can of Coke but picks up a doughnut to satisfy their sweet tooth, no real progress has been made.

Photo: AdobeStock/nicoletaionescu
Photo: AdobeStock/nicoletaionescu

3. Argument for: Soda is worse than junk food

The term “empty calories” refers to those that don’t come with any nutritional benefit. Cake, cookies, and simple carbohydrates are the main offenders, but soda deserves to be singled out because it doesn’t provide the satiety that solid food does. An afternoon cookie with 200 calories may have as much sugar as an afternoon soda with 200 calories, but the cookie is more likely to have an impact on hunger.

Liquid calories don’t fill us up the same way that solid foods do, and it’s easy to tack on a soda to a meal and not mentally count it toward the total food consumed, even though it adds significant calories. In short, sugary drinks are sneakier than sugary snacks, and WHO believes a tax on beverages specifically would be effective because soda sales are more price-dependent than other foods.

Photo: AdobeStock/vchalup
Photo: AdobeStock/vchalup

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4. Argument against: Moderate soda consumption is fine; consumers should choose for themselves

While added sugars aren’t necessary for a healthful diet, they don’t necessarily cause harm when consumed in moderation. WHO recommends that daily added sugar intake be less than 10 percent of total calories, and less than 5 percent provides additional health benefits. Soda could potentially fit within that range.

A 2007 review article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that while there is a link between soda consumption and obesity, causal links have not necessarily been established, and it could be that soda has gotten blamed for obesity when the real causes are much more complicated. The authors conclude, “…regular daily consumption of sugared liquids need not automatically result in weight gain.” What someone does or does not drink should be a matter of personal responsibility rather than government regulation.

Photo: AdobeStock: Photo/adrian_ilie825
Photo: AdobeStock/adrian_ilie825

4. Argument for: Tax revenues could be used to promote health programs

The revenue from the Seattle tax on sugary drinks will go in part to fund the city’s “Fresh Bucks” program, which provides farmers markets vouchers to low-income families. The high prices on fresh fruits and vegetables can be cost-prohibitive for lower-income families, whereas simple carbohydrate foods and fatty meats tend to be more budget-friendly, so programs that make healthy food more accessible could benefit those most in need.

The soda tax in Philadelphia was designed to fund community schools, prekindergarten programs, libraries, and parks. The city hoped to give citizens more of what they needed by taxing something that’s harmful.

Photo: AdobeStock/Rob
Photo: AdobeStock/Rob

5. Argument against: Soda tax hurts the poor

Despite the study in American Journal of Agricultural Economics that noted people can avoid the higher prices of a tax hike by stocking up during temporary price reductions, most of the evidence does point to such a tax having the greatest impact on those least able to afford it. Because those with lower incomes spend a higher percentage on consumer goods, these kinds of “sin taxes” hurt them the most. A tax, such as the one in Philadelphia, that raises the price of a six-pack of soda by $1.08 will likely go unnoticed by an affluent consumer, whereas that hike could really add up for those with tighter budgets.

Photo: AdobeStock/Stanislau_V
Photo: AdobeStock/Stanislau_V

5. Argument for: Soda tax helps the poor

The health problems associated with obesity disproportionately affect those in lower income brackets. In the US, counties with the highest poverty rates also have the highest rates of type 2 diabetes. Those in poverty also have worse health outcomes when they are affected by disease because of limited resources and access to care.

Because lower income consumers are more price sensitive, a tax on soda would have a bigger impact on their soda consumption and promote greater health benefits. Those for whom the tax had the greatest financial burden would likely reap the greatest health benefits.

Photo: AdobeStock/Phase4Photography
Photo: AdobeStock/Phase4Photography

Like any good debate, there are points worth considering on either side. The above list is not comprehensive. The beverage industry argues that exercise is the key to weight management, while others argue that soda is the new tobacco in terms of health consequences. The global mood is shifting toward the beverage and sugar industry, and more and more countries are implementing taxes and aggressive labeling on products with high sugar content. But if this trend is the beginning of a new era, or a fad doomed to failure, remains to be seen.

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