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Lessons learned from researchers and advocates on passing and implementing sugar-sweetened beverage taxes

Global public health advocates and countries are looking for ways to help address and fight the rising non-communicable disease (NCD) and obesity rates around the world. One way that this can be achieved is by adopting sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes. During an SSB tax webinar series hosted by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator’s (GHAI) Food Policy Program earlier this year, advocates and researchers from around the world came together to discuss the lessons they’ve learned while working on passing and implementing SSB taxes in their countries. They emphasized that successful tax advocacy is made up of a multi-pronged approach, including research, communications and legal strategies to raise public awareness and call on decisionmakers to implement SSB taxes as well as other healthy food policies.

These are the key takeaways from experts from the Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and the U.S.:

Key Takeaways

Research and Evidence

Studies have found that in countries where an SSB tax has been implemented, such as Mexico and South Africa, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption has decreased, including in low-income households.

  • In Mexico, the tax on SSBs has led to increases in healthier beverage purchasing.
  • In South Africa, the tax has led to industry reformulating its products.

When designing and implementing SSB taxes for public health, advocates should take the following items into consideration:

  • Decreasing sugary drink consumption while increasing healthy beverage consumption.
  • Taxes may lead to increased consumption of artificial sweeteners.
  • Where the revenue generated from the tax will go (will it be earmarked for public programs)?

There is no evidence that SSB taxes lead to a reduction in employment, an argument often made by the food and beverage industry.

Legal and Communication

The legal and communications strategies go hand in hand:

  • A communications strategy can help translate legal technical issues to the general public, allowing them to better understand the issue and why passing a policy is needed.
  • Evidence is also important to help legal arguments in court and counter industry arguments who try to delegitimize advocates’ arguments.
  • SSB tax campaigns can often be complex, therefore advocates should test messages with a small audience to measure which messages will be most effective and better understood by the general public.
  • Political contexts often inform the tax advocacy campaigns advocates work on, impacting their efforts to achieve policy wins. In the Caribbean for example, the biggest challenge advocates have with implementing an SSB tax (or even amending existing legislation to improve it) are political rather than legal considerations. Most of the Caribbean is founded on Britain’s Common Law system, therefore the cultural and legal scenarios in the region are much different than those in Latin America.

Even though tax advocacy may look different in every country, food policy program advocates continue to see the same issues and arguments in the countries and regions they work in. Watch GHAI’s two-part webinar series to hear more from the experts: Part I Latest Evidence (English and Spanish) and Part II Legal and Communications Best Practices (English and Spanish).