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Taxes on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

Results from a 2011 National Public Opinion Survey

      Background

      Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages including nondiet sodas, sport drinks, and energy drinks has been linked with obesity. Recent state and local efforts to tax these beverages have been unsuccessful. Enactment will be unlikely without public support, yet little research is available to assess how to effectively make the case for such taxes.

      Purpose

      The objectives were to assess public opinion about arguments used commonly in tax debates regarding sugar-sweetened beverages and to assess differences in public opinion by respondents' political party affiliation.

      Methods

      A public opinion survey was fielded in January–March 2011 using a probability-based sample of respondents from a large, nationally representative online panel to examine public attitudes about nine pro- and eight anti-tax arguments. These data were analyzed in August 2011.

      Results

      Findings indicated greater public agreement with anti- than pro-tax arguments. The most popular anti-tax argument was that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is arbitrary because it does not affect consumption of other unhealthy foods (60%). A majority also agreed that such taxes were a quick way for politicians to fill budget holes (58%); an unacceptable intrusion of government into people's lives (53.8%); opposed by most Americans (53%); and harmful to the poor (51%). No pro-tax arguments were endorsed by a majority of the public. Respondents reported highest agreement with the argument that sugar-sweetened beverages were the single largest contributor to obesity (49%) and would raise revenue for obesity prevention (41%).

      Conclusions

      Without bolstering public support for existing pro-tax messages or developing alternative pro-tax messages, enacting such policies will be difficult. Message-framing studies could be useful in identifying promising strategies for persuading Americans that taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages are warranted.
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      Linked Article

      • Talking About Sugar Sweetened–Beverage Taxes: Will Actions Speak Louder Than Words?
        American Journal of Preventive MedicineVol. 44Issue 2
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          In this issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Colleen Barry and her colleagues1 present results from a national public opinion survey assessing the level of support for arguments commonly used in public debate about instituting taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. Many in public health want to learn what will persuade the public to support taxing sugary beverages because they are eager to mimic the success in tobacco control, where increasing excise taxes on cigarettes is the single most effective way to reduce consumption, especially among youth.
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