Real life proof that sugar taxes don’t actually work

…the problem with Mexico’s soda tax was not that it didn’t reduce consumption, but that it reduced it by a trivial amount at a significant cost to consumers. Here was a relatively poor country introducing quite a large tax on a fairly small component of the country’s calorie supply and making a little dent in it. At best, the BMJ study suggested that it had reduced calorie consumption by the equivalent of one sugar cube a day which, as Tom Sanders said at the time, is ‘a drop in the caloric ocean’. …

On the face of it, sugary drink sales were seven per cent higher last year than they were before the tax was introduced. This is not good news for Jamie Oliver, but these figures need to be adjusted for population growth. Using the correct measure of per capita consumption we get the following results:

2007-13: 160 litres
2014: 162 litres
2015: 161 litres

This is still not good news for Jamie Oliver and so the NIPH asks the public to trust regression models that have made further adjustments to the data for possible confounding variables such as climate and economic growth. As with the BMJ study, these models suggest that soft drink consumption would have been higher if there had been no tax. Perhaps it would, but there is clearly a difference between arguing that sales would have been higher if the weather had been colder or the economy had been sluggish and asserting, as the NIPH does, that ‘there was an average decrease of -6% in 2014 and -8% in 2015′.

They conclude:  

Without these adjustments, the (erroneous) conclusion would be that there was an increase in sales after the tax, both in 2014 and in 2015, while the adjusted analysis shows that there was a reduction in sales after the tax.

At this point, words are beginning to lose their meaning. It is rather like the supporter of a losing football team claiming they would have won if their striker hadn’t been sent off with ten minutes to go. It could be true, but no one will ever know. The fact remains that they lost, and while you might be sympathetic to a supporter who claimed they should have won, you would worry about their state of mind if they claimed — as matter of historical fact — that they did win.

Imagine the hilarity at the Mexican tax office if Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co requested only paying tax on what public health campaigners said they sold in 2015 rather than on what they actually sold. If they told the government that their recorded sales figures were ‘erroneous’ on the basis of a speculative regression model I suspect they would be met with a terse reply.


Isn’t it disgusting?  The results aren’t what they want, so what do they do?

They dick around with the data.

Where have we heard that before?




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  • Andy111A

    I love how they point to climate data and then massage the numbers just like the dodgy climate scientists.

  • RightofSingapore

    The climate doesn’t vary that much in Mexico so its disingenuous to consider t as a “variable”

  • David Moore

    I notice they didn’t get around to measuring how fat people were.

  • Its a total and complete joke. I live in a sugar taxed country. It appears that the tax only applies to gassed drinks. Faux fruit juices, sports drinks etc don’t get taxed. Gassed drinks are a significant part of the poorer part of societies daily food basket. Like it or not the people who are being hammered by this tax are those that can least afford it. The least educated and least likely to ever change habits. On the other hand 30 cents extra on a 2 liter bottle of fizz is not even spilt milk for anyone middle class or above. Its a total and utter farce and does nothing to cure what it supposedly set out to do in the first place.