When cities and states first began to debate the merits of taxes on sodas, plastic bags, and even plastic straws, there was more than a small dose of skepticism that the markups would actually change consumer behavior. Especially when it came to soda, some doubted that people would give up their Dr Pepper habit even if it became more expensive. But new research in areas where soda taxes have gone into effect shows that, hey, they seem to be working after all.
The latest evidence comes via Consumer Reports, which illuminates a Drexel University survey of Philadelphia residents’ soda-drinking habits before and after the city introduced its soda tax. The survey called almost 900 residents before and after the tax was implemented, and asked them about their soda-chugging ways. Researchers found a 40 percent dip in soda consumption two months after the tax was introduced.
On a broader scale, a 2015 World Health Organization report concludes that, despite variations from country to country or city to city, “targeted taxes and subsidies have the potential to influence the decisions that consumers make and can be used to incentivize healthy eating at the population level.” Oh wait, except they’re a bit less effective for us lazy-ass, pop-guzzling Americans: “Existing small taxes in the United States of America are not associated with sizable differences or changes in consumption and weight outcomes, but non-trivial or larger price changes would be likely to have a greater impact.” So, you’ll have to tax the shit out of America to get this to work, says the WHO.
But Philly, against the odds, seems to have found success with its 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax, surprising even the creators of the survey. “We did not expect to see such significant changes occur so rapidly in Philadelphia,” researcher Amy Auchincloss tells Consumer Reports. Could it be that it’s not just the tax that’s changing consumer behavior, but an attendant awareness that soda isn’t good for us? Maybe we’ve always known that, but now there are more fizzy, non-soda options than ever to chose from, making it easier to forgo the pop in favor of seltzer or kombucha. Regardless of the reasons behind it, it’s just more bad news for soda peddlers.