Sticker shock may not have been the only force driving the decline in soda consumption in Berkeley after residents voted to enact the nation’s first soda tax in November 2014. The election, and the vigorous campaigning around the tax that led up to the vote, also may have played a major role in changing habits, shows a study by College of Natural Resources economists.
The study authors analyzed food and drink purchases at UC Berkeley–owned dining facilities and in drugstores in the city of Berkeley before and after residents voted in favor of levying a penny-per-ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages.
Their analysis revealed that soda sales dropped by an average of 10 to 20 percent in the three months immediately following the vote—before the tax or any associated price hikes went into effect.
The results indicate that the contentious Berkeley vs. Big Soda campaign and, ultimately, the vote in favor of the tax were enough to decrease soda sales in the city.
“In this case, an election really worked to change consumption before a price change,” said Sofia Villas-Boas, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ARE) and the senior author of the paper, which appeared in the journal Economic Inquiry in April.
“A key takeaway from our study is that if you replicate a soda tax or some other, similar measure in a different city, you might not witness the same consumption results if you didn’t have a campaign and election leading up to the actual tax implementation,” said Scott Kaplan, an ARE graduate student and co-author of the paper.
— Kara Manke