Sugary Drinks Taxation

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Sugary drinks (including carbonated drinks or soda) taxes were on the ballot in several countries and cities this year. With the World Health Organization’s October 11, 2016 promotion of taxing sugary drinks as a way to curtail their consumption and health impacts, it is likely that more jurisdictions will join those who have instituted such taxes. However, there is not universal acceptance of the necessity or efficacy of such taxes.  It appears to be a good time to take a look at this global effort to improve health and the arguments for and against it.

The concept of taxing drinks that contain sugar as a way of reducing their consumption and consequent health risks—diabetes, heart disease and obesity are the most often cited--has been around for decades.  For instance, Denmark instituted a soft drink tax in the 1930’s, but an increasing number of jurisdictions have instituted or attempted to institute such taxes since 2010. 

Selection of Jurisdictions with Existing or Pending Sugary Drink Taxes

(For a more complete listing see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugary_drinks_tax)

While a number of countries have passed taxes on sugary drinks in general or carbonated drinks (sodas) in particular on a national basis, in the United States the taxes have been passed by specific local jurisdictions. 

Norway – Since 2011 has a tax on imported and domestically produced chocolate and sugar products  which includes sugary drinks.

France – In January 2012 a tax on all sugary drinks went into effect and in 2013 energy drinks such as Red Bull were additionally taxed; in 2016 consideration is being given to raising the existing taxes and adding a “fat” tax.

Hungary – Enacted in 2011, the Public Health Product Tax taxes sugar, salt and fat content in foods and drinks.

Mexico – In October 2013, a tax on soda was adopted by the Senate which became effective in 2014.

United Kingdom – It is expected that a sugary drink tax will be introduced in the Finance Bill of 2017 to become effective in 2018.

Ireland – In September 2016 Ireland announced a similar taxation scheme to become effective in April 2018, at the same time as the UK tax.

Philadelphia, PA – In June 2016, the City Council imposed a tax, to become effective January 2017, on sodas sweetened with sugar and with artificial additives. It was the first major city in the United States to do so.

Bay Area, CA – Berkeley, CA  became the first municipality to vote for a sugary drinks tax  on November 4, 2014 and on November 8, 2016 San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany, CA each passed referenda to permit the taxing of sugary drinks.

Boulder, CO – Passed a referendum to tax sugary drinks on November 8, 2016.

Cook County, IL – On November 10, 2016, the Cook County Board voted to enact a tax on sugar and artificially sweetened drinks.

Selection of Jurisdictions where Sugary Drink Taxation has been proposed and failed or been repealed

Denmark- While it was one of the first countries to pass a sugary drink tax law, Denmark also chose to repeal the tax in 2013 as a way to create jobs and boost the economy. They did retain the excise tax on other sugary food products such as ice cream.

New York City – A tax on large sugary drinks was blocked by a court decision shortly before it was to go into effect in 2013.

United States – Rep. Rose  DeLauro of Connecticut proposed the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act in July 2014, but it was not voted upon and died at the end of the Session.

Selection of Arguments for and against Sugary Drink Taxation

(More to be found cited at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugary_drinks_tax)

UNESDA (European non-alcoholic beverages website)

Forbes – 5 More Locations Pass Soda Taxes: What’s Next for Big Soda? Nov. 16, 2016

Irish Times – “Global Examples Feed Arguments for and against Sugar Tax” Nov. 30, 2016

Toronto Star – “Bittersweet Results in Trying to Tax Soft Drinks” March 3, 2016

The Economist –“Taxing Sugary Drinks: Stop Slurping” Nov. 28, 2015  

Economic & Social Research Council, Institute for Fiscal Studies – “Using Taxation to Reduce Sugar Consumption - IFS Briefing Note BN180” March 2016

Institute of Economic Affairs – “Sugar Taxes Briefing” Jan. 2016

Cato Unbound - “The Ineffectiveness of Food and Soft Drink Taxes” Jan. 2015

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Sarah Cox
Foreign, International, and Comparative Law Librarian,UConn Law

Sarah Cox is the foreign, international and comparative law subject specialist in the Law Library.  She is the primary library liaison for the LL.Ms in the U.S. Legal Studies program, for the members of Connecticut Journal of International Law and the other J.D.s who take foreign and international law courses, as well as carrying out regular reference department duties.  Sarah received her J.D. from UCONN Law, her Masters in Library and Information Studies and a Certificate in Bibliography from the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a B.A. and M.A. in European History.