News + Issues

Sugar taxes sweep the ballot

hand holding soda can pouring out sugar content

Election season is always an exciting time in the United States. On November 8, 2016, Americans took to the polls to not only vote for elected officials, but to also weigh in on state, local and federal measures.  This year, residents of three California cities – Albany, Oakland and San Francisco – and Boulder, Colorado, had the opportunity to voice their opinions on ballot measures to implement taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). Additionally, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted on implementing a sugar tax in Cook County, Illinois on November 10, 2016.

These aforementioned cities all successfully passed the following measures to implement sugar taxes, tripling the number of U.S. cities with sugar taxes.

U.S. localities that have voted to approve sugar taxes:

How do sugar taxes work?

Sugar taxes raise the price of SSBs. The local government then collects that money to put toward public services, infrastructure improvements and other city costs. A city with a $0.01 sugar tax will see the price of a two-liter bottle of soda increase by about $0.68 and a six-pack of canned soda increase by $0.72. These taxes do not usually apply to milk, 100% juice, baby formula, alcohol or medical beverages.

Do sugar taxes affect health?

A 2016 study published in The BMJ found that following the implementation of a 2014 SSB tax in Mexico, purchases of taxed beverages decreased while purchases of un-taxed beverages increased. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Dental Research also indicated that SSB taxation could reduce caries rates and dental treatment costs. Furthermore, a 2015 study in the Journal of Dental Research notes that while dentistry has focused on increasing oral hygiene and prevention services, recent findings suggest that efforts to decreasing sugar intake to reduce caries should also be increased.

What can dental students do about sugar taxes?

If you live in or attend school in an area with sugar taxes, you can talk to your patients about what they mean. Patients often need help feeling motivated to take action towards improving their oral health and dietary habits. Talking with patients about how they can save money and improve their oral health by drinking tap water instead of soda is a great motivating factor! Informing patients about the true cost of soda may be just the push they need to break their soda-drinking habit.

If you do not live in an area with sugar taxes, you can still talk with your patients about how reducing sugar-sweetened beverages has been shown to decreased caries rates. Additionally, you can monitor your local ballots, measures and updates from elected officials to see if your city is considering a sugar tax. As dental students and health care providers, we can support future efforts to increase awareness about how implementing a sugar tax in our city can lead to the improved oral health of our patients.

~ Jean Marie Calvo, San Francisco ’17

Jean Marie Calvo

Jean is a fourth-year dental student at the University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry; she also recently completed her Masters in Public Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on a leave between her third and fourth years of dental school. Jean is active in research, Give Kids a Smile Day, and UCSF Oral Health Alliance to integrate oral health into primary care. Outside of school she enjoys reading, running, and cooking in her spare time!

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  1. There are pros and cons to both sides. Nobody wants the government to get bigger and bigger, but, we also can not continue this. Without a complete restructuring of the government I don’t know how we can effectively reduce sugar consumption with out.

  2. AmeriBev says:

    Taxes on foods and beverages line government coffers, but they do not improve public health. To this point, the editorial board of USA Today came out against soda taxes, stating “[s]oda taxes are heavy on intrusion and light on impact…Most important, soda taxes haven’t been shown to work.” Additionally, scientific research from Cornell University found that diets and health campaigns targeting specific foods to prevent obesity aren’t as effective as evaluating the entire diet. As stated by researcher David Just, “If we want real change we need to look at the overall diet and physical activity.”

    With that said, beverage companies are committed to being part of real solutions with initiatives like Balance Calories, which aims to reduce beverage calories in the American diet by 20 percent nationally by 2025 by offering more lower- and no-calorie choices and smaller sizes and then finding ways to get people to try them.

  3. Dental clinics and dental students should educate the patients regarding oral health.

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