In March 2016, U.K. Chancellor George Osborne surprised many by introducing a sugar levy on soft drinks.
The new tax, called the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, will begin in 2018. The money collected will fund childhood obesity interventions such as school sports programs.
British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who lobbied Parliament for a sugar levy, was ecstatic over the announcement, calling it a “bold, brave, logical” move.
“We did it guys!!we did it!!! A sugar levy on sugary sweetened drinks... A profound move that will ripple around the world,” Oliver boasted on Twitter.
But the idea of such a tax in the U.S. has met with mixed opinions — perhaps because the motive behind such taxing initiatives is not to reduce consumers’ sugar intake but to bail governments out of financial trouble, critics say.
In November, Cook County, Ill., with a population of 5.2 million, became the largest urban area in the U.S. to approve a so-called sin tax on beverages. Two-term Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle broke a tie among commissioners to pass a penny-an-ounce tax on sugary and artificially sweetened drinks, on top of Chicago’s 3 percent tax on retail sales and a 9 percent tax on the wholesale price of fountain drink syrup.
The $224 million per year the tax is expected to bring in will put the county “on a stable financial footing for the next three fiscal years,” Preckwinkle said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
About the same time, Illinois state Sen. Toi Hutchinson proposed a penny-an-ounce tax for each sugar-sweetened drink sold statewide, but that proposal was shot down in January.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia approved a beverage tax last year, but the American Beverage Association, which represents soda manufacturers, is fighting the law. The tax, which went into effect Jan. 1, costs consumers 1.5 cents per ounce and sometimes costs more than the drink itself. A gallon of sweetened tea costing $1.77 now costs $3.69 with the sugar tax.
Voters in Oakland, Calif., San Francisco and Boulder, Colo., in November approved similar taxes.
West Virginia and Arkansas have taxed soft drinks for decades. Arkansas now taxes soft drink syrup at $2 per gallon, canned drinks at 21 cents per gallon and powders at 21 cents for each gallon produced.
While some still voice concern over sugar taxes being unfair to the poor, the taxes have curbed soda consumption. Berkeley, Calif., in 2015 became the first city to approve a penny-an-ounce tax on beverages and reduced soda consumption by 21 percent.
The Navajo Nation went further in 2014, passing a 2 percent sales tax on sugary beverages, snacks and sweets, and baked and fried foods with little to no nutritional value. Tax revenue goes toward healthy-eating programs. Fresh fruits and vegetables there are tax-free.