Forget Banning Sugary Sodas—Britain Just Wants To Tax Them

Yet another attempt to wean helpless humans off the heavenly nectar

Coca Cola, France. (Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images) — UIG via Getty Images
Feb 24, 2016 at 5:48 PM ET

Britain is trying to do what America has so far failed to accomplish: reduce its population’s intake of sugary drinks, and, in turn, obesity rates. Good luck with that, Britain! And unlike, say, New York, where the mayor tried a cut-and-dry ban on buying buckets of soda so large you could drown kittens in them, Britain hopes to do it via taxation—extra fun.

There’s no question how bad high-sugar diets are for your health, and how chronically addicted we are as a species to the sweet stuff. Sodas are our favorite (and most insidious) sugar delivery vehicles, and in recent years, the concept of a sugar tax on sweet beverages has becoming increasingly commonplace as the campaign for public health expands its global reach. Mexico, France, Hungary, and various Scandinavian countries have been among those to adopt the taxes, and researchers in India, the Philippines, and the UK are currently considering similar measures.

After the World Health Organization recommended the practice of taxing such beverages last month, the concept has gathered steam. Now, a report from Cancer Research UK estimates that taxation of these beverages could keep 3.7 million people from becoming obese within the next 10 years, assuming that it reduced public consumption of soda by 16 percent. In Mexico, a 10 percent tax (roughly $0.07 per liter) resulted in consumers buying six percent fewer soft drinks per month in its first year.

In the U.S., most attempts at enacting such a tax have failed miserably, save a recent measure passed in Berkeley, CA. Big sugar wins almost every time, and the profits keep rolling in. PepsiCo netted more than $18.5 billion last quarter. Together with its main competitor, the Coca-Cola company, the two companies are worth nearly $870 billion in annual sales. Dubious health initiatives aside, PepsiCo has remained stoically silent on the issue of sugar taxes, and a look at the assorted drinks in the company’s inventory reveals why.

According to data from PepsiCo’s Product Finder, their average beverage contains approximately 19 grams of sugar per 12 fl ounces, (their standard serving size is 20 ounces), but several of them contain 40 grams and upwards. A teaspoon of sugar is in the region of five grams, so a 40-gram serving of sugar is like putting eight spoonfuls in your drink. Imagine your coffee with eight spoons of sugar. Imagine it. You can’t because it’s insane.

Under new advice from The Dietary Guidelines For Americans, U.S. citizens should be limiting their added sugar intakes to 10 percent of their daily calorie intake, and beverages are the biggest offender, accounting for nearly half of all added sugar consumed by the U.S. population.

While there’s no questioning how unhealthy sugar-sweetened drinks are, the matter of taxing them is a bit more controversial. While research has shown that consumption of calories in drinks could drop by as much as 9.3 percent if a tax of $0.04 was added for every calorie, others maintain that such policies would disproportionately affect poor citizens.