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      The ethics of excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages

      a , *

      Physiology & Behavior

      Elsevier Inc.

      Sugar sweetened beverages, taxation, excise taxes, policy, ethics, obesity

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          Highlights

          • To promote health, public health experts and policymakers have proposed excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverage (SSBs) distributors.

          • Research is needed to examine the ethical implications of SSB taxation.

          • This analysis finds there is a strong ethical case for SSB excise taxes.

          • Future research should examine how SSBs influence consumer knowledge and empowerment and the ethical implications of the beverage industry's response to public health policies.

          Abstract

          Sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxation has emerged as a priority policy for promoting health and funding investments in communities most affected by diet-related disease. There are now 8 U.S. jurisdictions and over 40 countries that have implemented SSB taxes. Evaluations show that these policies reduce SSB consumption and purchasing while raising revenues to fund public health, education, and equity. However, there have been few analyses of the ethical considerations of SSB taxation. Using a framework for evaluating the ethics of public health interventions, this paper considers the ethical aspects of SSB excise taxes with respect to: physical health, psychosocial well-being, equality, informed choice, liberty, social and cultural values, and responsibility. Available evidence suggests there is a strong ethical case for levying SSB excise taxes on manufacturers and distributors. SSB excise taxes reduce consumption and purchasing of SSBs and are expected to meaningfully reduce obesity and diet-related morbidity and mortality. Because SSB taxes are specific to a product and its manufacturers, they are unlikely to harm psychosocial health by stigmatizing people who are overweight. SSB excise taxes should lead to greater equality because the health and social benefits are progressive (i.e., low-income individuals are likely to accrue the largest benefits from the tax, particularly when revenues are spent on health and social equity). Meanwhile, the average consumer cost burden that would result from distributors raising SSB prices is minimally regressive. Regarding liberty, SSB taxes do not eliminate the option of buying SSBs, but if SSB distributors raise SSB prices in response to the tax, it becomes somewhat more expensive to continue purchasing the same amount of SSBs. Meanwhile, the taxes expand beverage options by funding drinking water availability and prompting industry to offer lower sugar SSBs. Furthermore, by averting poor health, SSB taxes should expand overall freedom to pursue one's goals. Informed choice could be facilitated by seeing a higher SSB shelf price (which indicates a drink contains added sugar) and exposure to nutrition education funded with tax revenues. SSB taxation is unlikely to negatively interfere with social or cultural values because taxation would not eliminate having SSBs for special occasions, and SSBs are not a staple of traditional diets. Lastly, SSB taxation attributes responsibility for health in a manner that reflects industry's contribution to obesity and the multisectoral solutions that are needed to prevent diet-related disease.

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          Most cited references 71

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          Tobacco taxes as a tobacco control strategy.

          Increases in tobacco taxes are widely regarded as a highly effective strategy for reducing tobacco use and its consequences. The voluminous literature on tobacco taxes is assessed, drawing heavily from seminal and recent publications reviewing the evidence on the impact of tobacco taxes on tobacco use and related outcomes, as well as that on tobacco tax administration. Well over 100 studies, including a growing number from low-income and middle-income countries, clearly demonstrate that tobacco excise taxes are a powerful tool for reducing tobacco use while at the same time providing a reliable source of government revenues. Significant increases in tobacco taxes that increase tobacco product prices encourage current tobacco users to stop using, prevent potential users from taking up tobacco use, and reduce consumption among those that continue to use, with the greatest impact on the young and the poor. Global experiences with tobacco taxation and tax administration have been used by WHO to develop a set of 'best practices' for maximising the effectiveness of tobacco taxation. Significant increases in tobacco taxes are a highly effective tobacco control strategy and lead to significant improvements in public health. The positive health impact is even greater when some of the revenues generated by tobacco tax increases are used to support tobacco control, health promotion and/or other health-related activities and programmes. In general, oppositional arguments that higher taxes will have harmful economic effects are false or overstated.
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            Changes in prices, sales, consumer spending, and beverage consumption one year after a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley, California, US: A before-and-after study

            Background Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) meant to improve health and raise revenue are being adopted, yet evaluation is scarce. This study examines the association of the first penny per ounce SSB excise tax in the United States, in Berkeley, California, with beverage prices, sales, store revenue/consumer spending, and usual beverage intake. Methods and findings Methods included comparison of pre-taxation (before 1 January 2015) and first-year post-taxation (1 March 2015–29 February 2016) measures of (1) beverage prices at 26 Berkeley stores; (2) point-of-sale scanner data on 15.5 million checkouts for beverage prices, sales, and store revenue for two supermarket chains covering three Berkeley and six control non-Berkeley large supermarkets in adjacent cities; and (3) a representative telephone survey (17.4% cooperation rate) of 957 adult Berkeley residents. Key hypotheses were that (1) the tax would be passed through to the prices of taxed beverages among the chain stores in which Berkeley implemented the tax in 2015; (2) sales of taxed beverages would decline, and sales of untaxed beverages would rise, in Berkeley stores more than in comparison non-Berkeley stores; (3) consumer spending per transaction (checkout episode) would not increase in Berkeley stores; and (4) self-reported consumption of taxed beverages would decline. Main outcomes and measures included changes in inflation-adjusted prices (cents/ounce), beverage sales (ounces), consumers’ spending measured as store revenue (inflation-adjusted dollars per transaction) in two large chains, and usual beverage intake (grams/day and kilocalories/day). Tax pass-through (changes in the price after imposition of the tax) for SSBs varied in degree and timing by store type and beverage type. Pass-through was complete in large chain supermarkets (+1.07¢/oz, p = 0.001) and small chain supermarkets and chain gas stations (1.31¢/oz, p = 0.004), partial in pharmacies (+0.45¢/oz, p = 0.03), and negative in independent corner stores and independent gas stations (−0.64¢/oz, p = 0.004). Sales-unweighted mean price change from scanner data was +0.67¢/oz (p = 0.00) (sales-weighted, +0.65¢/oz, p = 0.003), with +1.09¢/oz (p < 0.001) for sodas and energy drinks, but a lower change in other categories. Post-tax year 1 scanner data SSB sales (ounces/transaction) in Berkeley stores declined 9.6% (p < 0.001) compared to estimates if the tax were not in place, but rose 6.9% (p < 0.001) for non-Berkeley stores. Sales of untaxed beverages in Berkeley stores rose by 3.5% versus 0.5% (both p < 0.001) for non-Berkeley stores. Overall beverage sales also rose across stores. In Berkeley, sales of water rose by 15.6% (p < 0.001) (exceeding the decline in SSB sales in ounces); untaxed fruit, vegetable, and tea drinks, by 4.37% (p < 0.001); and plain milk, by 0.63% (p = 0.01). Scanner data mean store revenue/consumer spending (dollars per transaction) fell 18¢ less in Berkeley (−$0.36, p < 0.001) than in comparison stores (−$0.54, p < 0.001). Baseline and post-tax Berkeley SSB sales and usual dietary intake were markedly low compared to national levels (at baseline, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey SSB intake nationally was 131 kcal/d and in Berkeley was 45 kcal/d). Reductions in self-reported mean daily SSB intake in grams (−19.8%, p = 0.49) and in mean per capita SSB caloric intake (−13.3%, p = 0.56) from baseline to post-tax were not statistically significant. Limitations of the study include inability to establish causal links due to observational design, and the absence of health outcomes. Analysis of consumption was limited by the small effect size in relation to high standard error and Berkeley’s low baseline consumption. Conclusions One year following implementation of the nation’s first large SSB tax, prices of SSBs increased in many, but not all, settings, SSB sales declined, and sales of untaxed beverages (especially water) and overall study beverages rose in Berkeley; overall consumer spending per transaction in the stores studied did not rise. Price increases for SSBs in two distinct data sources, their timing, and the patterns of change in taxed and untaxed beverage sales suggest that the observed changes may be attributable to the tax. Post-tax self-reported SSB intake did not change significantly compared to baseline. Significant declines in SSB sales, even in this relatively affluent community, accompanied by revenue used for prevention suggest promise for this policy. Evaluation of taxation in jurisdictions with more typical SSB consumption, with controls, is needed to assess broader dietary and potential health impacts.
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              Personal responsibility and obesity: a constructive approach to a controversial issue.

              The concept of personal responsibility has been central to social, legal, and political approaches to obesity. It evokes language of blame, weakness, and vice and is a leading basis for inadequate government efforts, given the importance of environmental conditions in explaining high rates of obesity. These environmental conditions can override individual physical and psychological regulatory systems that might otherwise stand in the way of weight gain and obesity, hence undermining personal responsibility, narrowing choices, and eroding personal freedoms. Personal responsibility can be embraced as a value by placing priority on legislative and regulatory actions such as improving school nutrition, menu labeling, altering industry marketing practices, and even such controversial measures as the use of food taxes that create healthier defaults, thus supporting responsible behavior and bridging the divide between views based on individualistic versus collective responsibility.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Physiol Behav
                Physiol. Behav
                Physiology & Behavior
                Elsevier Inc.
                0031-9384
                1873-507X
                24 July 2020
                24 July 2020
                Affiliations
                [a ]Human Development and Family Studies Program, Department of Human Ecology, UC Davis. 1 Shields Ave, Davis, CA, 95616, United States
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. Department of Human Ecology, 1 Shields Ave, Davis, CA 95616 jfalbe@ 123456ucdavis.edu
                Article
                S0031-9384(20)30419-4 113105
                10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.113105
                7377978
                © 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

                Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.

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                Anatomy & Physiology

                obesity, ethics, policy, excise taxes, taxation, sugar sweetened beverages

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