Taxes on soda and other sugary drinks are increasing in popularity as a public health measure. Could these taxes have an impact on global dental health?
As Australia weighs the pros and cons of implementing a soda tax, it’s important to look at how similar taxes are designed — and how effective they are — around the world.
We all know that soda is not the best beverage for our allover health. A liter of Pepsi packs in 65.7 grams of sugar, while a liter of Mountain Dew tops the charts with a whopping 72.3 grams. That’s nearly triple the amount of sugar experts say is healthy to consume in a day — the American Heart Association recommends a daily intake of no more than 25 grams.
Consuming large amounts of sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It’s also strongly linked to tooth decay, as bacteria in the mouth convert sugar to acids that wear away at the enamel of your teeth. Less people drinking soda around the world would undoubtedly have a huge impact on the rates of tooth decay.
Most people are well aware of these health risks and soda’s effect on teeth, yet drink the sugary beverages anyway. Educational campaigns to inform consumers about the dangers of drinking soda have only gone so far. Now, local governments around the world are aiming for a more aggressive approach in the name of public health, and imposing a soda tax. Though it’s still being debated, Australia could be next.
How does the soda tax work?
The tax is actually on any drink with sugar added, not just soda. As already imposed in major cities in the US, UK and Mexico, the tax raises the price of beverages such as soft drinks, energy drinks, and juices with added sugar. In theory, this tax on sugary drinks leads consumers to consider opting for a healthier and less expensive choice.
The soda tax Philadelphia imposed in 2016 adds a tax of 1.5 cent per ounce of drinks with added sugar or artificial sweeteners. That raises the price of a two-liter bottle of sugary drinks by about $1.02. It might not seem like a lot, but it can certainly add up. Mexico City, the first city to pass a soda tax, added a 10% tax on sugary drinks.
It’s not just about the money. Most soda tax programs have an educational component as well; in Mexico City, a massive advertising campaign included billboards demonstrating the amount of sugar in Coca-Cola and making connections to the health complications of diabetes.
Although the jury is still out in the soda tax debate, sugary drink consumption does appear to be dropping in cities that have imposed the tax. It’s too early to tell whether this measure will be effective in the long term, but soda sales did drop by about 12% in the first year of Mexico City’s tax.
Future of the soda tax in Australia and Beyond
The soda tax New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed in 2010 was voted down, but a recent push based on its success in other cities has rejuvenated the debate, and it’s likely to come to another vote in the near future. Australia is also considering a soft drink tax. According to a study by the Obesity Policy Coalition and the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health, a tax on sugary drinks could save over 1600 lives and raise $400 million per year.