Sugar “sin taxes” in the spotlight.

  • Added sugar has been in the spotlight for years, particularly with respect to its potential contribution to obesity and other non-communicable diseases.  The WHO recently issued a report urging the food industry and global governments to take active steps to curb sugar consumption among children.  The report discussed the benefits of regulatory actions such as sugar taxes and restrictions on the marketing of sugary foods to children.  Mexico recently led the way in Latin America, implementing one of the world’s highest taxes (1 peso per liter) on sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Some public health advocates predict that other countries will follow Mexico’s lead before the end of 2016 and will implement taxes and advertising restrictions on sugary beverages.  Although some question the effectiveness of these so-called “sin taxes,” data at the one-year mark in Mexico suggest that their tax reduced the consumption of sugary beverages by 12%.
  • Here in the U.S., legislative efforts to require warning labels on sugary beverages failed in California and New York, although the City and County of San Francisco passed legislation to require such warnings in 2015.  (San Francisco’s law is being challenged on First Amendment grounds).  Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial effort to effect a “big soda ban” in New York City also failed.  However, in 2014, Berkeley became the first city to pass an excise tax (1 penny per ounce) on sugar-sweetened beverages.  The Berkeley tax has only been effective since January 2015, so it may be too early to tell whether it is “working.”  Still, many public health advocates will be looking to data emerging from jurisdictions like Mexico and Berkeley to determine the feasibility and efficacy of this type of government initiative.  Their relative successes and failures will help determine the popularity and fate of “sin taxes” on both a domestic and a global scale.