Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) in many countries are already being implemented with taxes to curb the increasing levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The study on the effect of these taxes on purchasing decisions is beginning to emerge.
The research study which was published in the journal PLOS Medicine examined whether such a tax in Berkeley, California can be passed on to purchases in different types of stores and reduce the sales of beverages and on how it would affect the grocery bills.
One year after the introduction of the tax, sales of SSB in Berkeley fell by 9.6% while sales of SSB in surrounding areas with no SSB tax rose by 6.9%. Sales of water in Berkeley increased by 15.6% post tax and sales for other non-taxed drinks such as unsweetened teas, milk and fruit juices also rose. Overall beverage sales increased in Berkeley, but the amount consumers spend per transaction at the supermarket checkout did not increase.
Pass through of the tax is complete in large and small chain supermarkets as well as chain gas stations; partial in pharmacies and negative in independent stores and gas stations. In addition, the tax is more likely to be passed on for carbonated rather than non-carbonated SSB.
These results suggest that there is a need for clearer messaging to store owners about which drinks to price higher to reflect the tax, which is paid by distributors.
Results from this study as well as other studies, assessing similar taxes in Mexico and France, provide promise for the future of such taxes. Berkeley, California is a relatively affluent area. Prior to its implementation, it was unknown whether the tax would be high enough to effect change in purchasing, so it's encouraging to see such change; further reductions in purchases may be seen once pass through is more consistently applied in independent stores as well on non-carbonated SSB.
Money raised from these taxes have already been directed towards community programs, and will continue to be used to further educate the public about healthy dietary choices, obesity and diabetes. Whether the use of such taxes will lead to longer term goals such as reduced levels of obesity and diabetes remain to be seen; early indications from these studies provide hope.