America's first "soda tax" results in 21% drop in consumption

As Ireland ponders a 10c levy on soft drinks

A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, has shown a 21% fall in the number of people drinking soft drinks since the US city brought in a tax on the beverages.

A penny-per-ounce levy on sugar-sweetened drinks was introduced in the city back in March 2015, and research suggests it played a big role in Berkeley bucking the trend of increased consumption seen in the comparative Californian cities of Okland and San Francisco in that period.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health this week, saw over 2,500 people in Berkeley's low-income neighbourhoods questioned in street intercept surveys on their soda drinking habits.

One third of participants filled out the beverage frequency questionnaire eight months before the vote to introduce the tax, with the other two-thirds doing the same four months after it was implemented.

While it was found that the amount of soda being consumed was down 21% in Berkeley, consumption had risen 4% in the other cities.

A mere 2% of those surveyed said they had left Berkeley to purchase cheaper soda.

Residents also reported a 63% increase in drinking bottled or tap water, compared to a 19% rise in Oakland and San Francisco.

Kristine Madsen, the study's senior author and associate professor of public health at UC Berkeley, said:

“Low-income communities bear the brunt of the health consequences of obesity and diabetes, so this decline in soda and sugary beverage consumption is very encouraging.

“We are looking for tools that support people in making healthy choices, and the soda tax appears to be an effective tool.”

The new findings arrive as the Irish Government considers whether or not to implement its own 10c levy on sugar-sweetened drinks in Budget 2017.

Last year, then-Minister for Health Leo Varadkar wrote to Finance Minister Michael Noonan, calling for a 20% tax to be introduced.

The Irish Beverage Council argued in a pre-budget submission earlier this month that the levy would cost the Exchequer €35 million a year and could threaten employment and future investment in the country.

The submission stated that despite being introduced in a number of countries, sugar taxes have never reduced the consumption of sugar or decreased levels of obesity.