by Marion Nestle
Aug 29 2016

Yes! The Berkeley soda tax is doing what it is supposed to

Jennifer Falbe and other investigators from Kristin Madson’s group at UC Berkeley have just produced an analysis of the effects of the Berkeley soda tax on consumption patterns.

They surveyed people in low-income communities before and after the tax went into effect.  The result: an overall 21% decline in reported soda consumption in low-income Berkeley neighborhoods versus a 4% increase in equivalent neighborhoods in Oakland and San Francisco.

The Los Angeles Times breaks out these figures: 

In Oakland and San Francisco, which have not yet passed a tax, sales of regular sodas went up by 10%.

Other findings, as reported by Healthy Food America:

  • During one of the hottest summers on record, Berkeley residents reported drinking 63 percent more bottled water, while comparison cities saw increases of just 19 percent.
  • Only 2 percent of those surveyed reported crossing city lines to avoid the tax.
  • The biggest drops came in consumption of soda (26%) and sports drinks (36%).

Agricultural economist Parke Wilde at Tufts views this study as empirical evidence for the benefits of taxes.  He writes on his US Food Policy blog that it’s time for his ag econ colleagues to take the benefits of taxes seriously:

There is a long tradition in my profession of doubting the potential impact of such taxes…Oklahoma State University economist Jayson Lusk, who also is president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), has blogged several times about soda taxes, agreeing with most of the Tamar Haspel column  in the Washington Post, and concluding stridently: “I’m sorry, but if my choice is between nothing and a policy that is paternalistic, regressive, will create economic distortions and deadweight loss, and is unlikely to have any significant effects on public health, I choose nothing” (emphasis added).

Wilde points out that Lusk has now modified those comments in a blog post.

All that said, I’m more than willing to accept the finding that the Berkeley city soda tax caused soda consumption to fall. The much more difficult question is: are Berkeley residents better off?

Yes, they are.

The Berkeley study is good news and a cheery start to the week.  Have a good one.

Addition

Politico adds up the “piles of cash” being spent on the soda tax votes in San Francisco, Oakland, and Alameda and analyzes the soda industry’s framing of the tax as a “grocery tax.”

  • Cammy

    Great news! The next step – warning labels on sugary drinks.

  • DoogieFresh

    “Maybe, but Berkeley financial records show the drop in consumption may have been smaller.

    The records show that in March 2015, when the tax went into effect, Berkeley collected $117,433 in sales taxes from high-sugar drinks. In February 2016, the most recent month for which figures are available, the city took in $115,968 — that’s a drop of just 1.2 percent in sales of the sweet stuff. Considering that February is shorter than March, the tax collections per day actually rose.

    So either wealthier people in Berkeley are drinking more soda these day — or those in the low-income neighborhoods who talked to the UC Berkeley researchers were saying one thing about sugar and drinking another.”

    http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/matier-ross/article/Big-Soda-gets-boost-from-the-Bern-in-SF-and-9188847.php?t=8b296f1ac6

  • Sandrosity

    “During one of the hottest summers on record…” True in many parts of the US but definitely not in the SF Bay Area. Healthy Food America should be more careful with their statements and not make blanket (false) assumptions.

    Also, did the question about water ask specifically about bottled water? I can’t access the actual research but am interested in knowing. Or was it water in general, but HFA decided to assume and report that the increase was for bottled water only?

  • Sandrosity

    “During one of the hottest summers on record…” True in many parts of the US but definitely not in the SF Bay Area. Healthy Food America should be more careful with their statements and not make blanket (false) assumptions.

    Also, did the question about water ask specifically about bottled water? I can’t access the actual research but am interested in knowing. Or was it water in general, but HFA decided to assume and report that the increase was for bottled water only?

  • valerie

    How do you know that Berkeley residents are better off? Where is the data on health?

    “There has not been enough time,” I hear you say. Then where is the health data related to the Mexican tax?

  • valerie

    How do you know that Berkeley residents are better off? Where is the data on health?

    “There has not been enough time,” I hear you say. Then where is the health data related to the Mexican tax?

  • Farmer with a Dell

    The grocery tax is “doing what it’s supposed to”…which, apparently, is to oppress low-income folks disproportionately and single out market players to for punitive action. Hmmm…I somehow misunderstood the grocery tax was supposed to eradicate obesity and diabetes in one fell swoop. Has any of that happened yet? Why is no one measuring and reporting on that?

    Arbitrary and capricious grocery taxes, what a farce and what a sad commentary on the yuppification of our society when failed public health educators must resort to punitive taxation in an ill-conceived attempt to undo an obesity “epidemic” that occurred on their watch.
    .
    Those who can…..do.
    .
    Those who can’t…..teach.
    .
    Those who can’t teach….regulate.

    Not a very appetizing precedent to set, these abhorrent grocery taxes, especially when proven public health screwups are the ones picking the winners and losers. Just another colossal authoritarian debacle in it’s infancy.

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  • Michael McCarthy

    This ↑↑↑ x 100

  • Michael McCarthy

    This ↑↑↑ x 100

  • roccobiale

    There is no proof that the less consumption was a result of the tax, it may just be education?

  • JW Ogden

    Still obnoxiously paternalistic.

  • JW Ogden

    Still obnoxiously paternalistic.

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