Let's Talk: Should there be a tax on soft drinks?

It’s been talked about in Australia for a number of years but has yet to be implemented. Could we have a soft drink tax like other countries?

In Mexico, for example, there is a one-peso-per-litre tax on sugary beverages and has, since its implementation, seen a 12 per cent drop in soft drinks – a huge amount when you consider Mexicans drink 163 litres of soda a year. The country has also introduced similar taxes on junk food and seen a decline in sales also.

And now Berkeley, California has recently become the first city in the US to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages including soft drinks, sweetened teas, sugary juices, and energy drinks. Health experts say the tax will discourage the consumption of a beverage that wreaks havoc on our health.

But will a government intervention like this do anything to curb the rate of obesity and diabetes if introduced in Australia?

Back in 2013, the Cancer Council, Diabetes Australia and the Heart Foundation of Australia joined forces to increase public awareness of the potential health impacts of soft drinks and energy drinks, and encourage consumption of healthier alternatives such as water, as well as call on schools to ban the sale of soft drinks. They were successful in their campaign, with many schools ditching the sugary drinks.

Ad. Article continues below.

At the time, the Heart Foundation’s Kellie-Ann Jolly told the ABC a tax could be an effective option. “We want to investigate some of the tax options and get the Federal Government to have a look at this to see whether increasing the price of sugary drinks can have an impact on consumption”. Clearly, nothing was done.

More recently, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has called for a 15 per cent tax on soft drinks, much like the tax that exists on premix alcoholic beverages.

It’s no secret just how bad carbonated drinks can be on your health – the health risks are well known: obesity, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and tooth decay, weight gain.

Some say that discouraging a daily Coca Cola habit could have the same consequence as the alcopops tax (hard liquor sales rose) – consumers will simply seek an alternative.

So where is the line? And would this ever be passed?

Ad. Article continues below.

Jane Martin, the executive manager of Australia’s Obesity Policy Coalition believes a soft drink tax “has a lot of potential”, she told Crikey. If nothing else, the proposed soft drink tax could be used as a starting point for a larger conversation on health.


Tell us today, do you think that there should be a tax on soft drinks? Do you enjoy them regularly and what would you do if prices increased to dissuade you from buying them?