Letter to the Wall Street Journal on Soda Taxes

August 30, 2012

Here's a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

I was disheartened to read Ms. Vara’s recent article, “Campaign Over Soda Tax Bubbles Up” (August 13, A3), which seems to offer the narrative that academics agree that soda taxes are beneficial, and corporate groups are desperately blocking do-good Ph.D. nutritionists.

In reality, the academic literature does not resoundingly support soda taxes. A 2010 study by a Yale economist found that adolescents do consume less soda when taxes are added to the price, but they also just substitute in other high-calorie beverages, resulting in the same net caloric intake. Some adolescents switch to milk, meaning they actually consume more calories as a result of the tax!

A 2012 study by Cornell economists found that many consumers in areas with soda taxes switch from soda to beer (which has more calories than soda), meaning we could be trading one public health problem for another.

The big lesson here is that the tax code is a blunt instrument. Let’s not use it to finagle with something as personal as our diet choices.

Scott W. Drenkard
Economist
Tax Foundation
Washington, DC

More on sugar and snack taxes here.

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