Sin Taxes Work, But Should We Use Them?
Ester Bloom

Berkeley resident here! I love the soda tax, but the media routinely misleads us on what the tax actually is and how effective it has been:

  • That study’s methods weren’t exactly gold standard. The study just walked around and asked people on the street in SF, Oakland, and Berkeley whether they were buying soda, and how recently they’d consumed soda. That method is obviously subject to significant peer pressure, especially in Berkeley where the PR campaign about the tax was stronger (“Oh no, my peers think soda is bad, I will say I never drink it!”). A better measure, which we don’t have, is ACTUAL SALES of sugar sweetened beverages.
  • The grocery tax criticism has some merit. The tax isn’t levied directly on consumers like a sales tax. Instead, grocers and restaurants are taxed on the sugar sweetened beverages they buy. So sellers can recoup their costs however they want: absorb the cost, raise the cost of all goods a little bit, or directly increase the price of soda. Again, I haven’t seen data on HOW the tax is actually getting passed on to consumers.
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