Seattle's Soda Tax Fails to Live Up to Its Promises | Citizens Against Government Waste

Seattle's Soda Tax Fails to Live Up to Its Promises

The WasteWatcher

In Seattle, free college, youth education programs, and job training are the latest “soda tax” battle cries. Unfortunately for consumers, these are promises that are made to be broken. In the city, a case of Gatorade used to cost a Seattleites $15.99 in 2017 but now costs $26.33. While this would appear to be a more than ample increase to cover the city’s many promises, the nearly six million dollars in soda tax revenue has instead ended up in the city’s general fund. Local businesses and consumers alike are seeing negative effects without any of the promised benefits.

In almost every form, soda taxes are revenue generation initiatives that masquerade as a public health crusade. In reality, they are bad at both objectives. Research suggests that these taxes unfairly impact lower-income consumers and the lack of legislative ubiquity across municipalities makes cross-border purchases a viable workaround. This not only circumvents the public health goals of soda legislation, but also drives economic value out of the municipality.

Furthermore, Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an international expert on obesity, warns health advocates away from supporting soda taxes. Dr. Stanford fears that soda taxes push consumers to equally unhealthy choices while giving them peace of mind. In reality, she clarifies that a “range of factors play a role in obesity, including genes, sleep patterns, [and] medications.”  In light of this, it would be more beneficial for public health to promote holistically healthy lifestyles, including the responsible consumption of sugary foods and beverages.

A core issue surrounding soda taxes is not only citizens circumventing the law, but also where any generated revenue actually ends up. In Seattle, the original destination for the tax revenue was “job training programs, initiatives aimed at closing the food security gap, and support programs for at-risk children.”  Importantly, these programs often assist lower-income individuals, who the soda tax disportionately effects. When these programs do not receive the promised soda tax revenue, it is an even more significant disservice to lower income individuals.

Seattle’s issues stemming from the adoption of a soda tax are not unique. A report on Philadelphia’s soda tax concluded that it was “ineffective at reducing consumption of unhealthy products.”  Individuals repeatedly chose to leave the city to obtain their desired product at a cheaper cost. Soda sales decreased by 42 percent within the city, while they grew in neighboring municipalities. As it did in Seattle, this magnified the consequences of the tax as consumers would bundle their shopping at supermarkets outside the city limits.

Holistically, soda taxes are harmful to the economies of municipalities and ineffective at promoting healthy choices. Consumers opt to consume their beverage of choice anyway, bringing money to neighboring cities as opposed to their own. This drives down revenue on soda and other items often bought contemporaneously. To further compound this loss of funds, soda tax revenue has been repeatedly used for purposes other than what was promised. In every form, a soda tax produces the opposite of its promised results.

-- Brady Africk

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