November 27, 2014

Taxing Away Sweet Drinks: Plenty of Baptists, But No Bootleggers

Adam C. Smith

Assistant Professor of Economics, Johnson and Wales University

Bruce Yandle

Distinguished Adjunct Fellow
Summary

Amidst all the revelry and regret concerning the Republican election-day sweep, it was easy to miss another groundbreaking victory. Voters in the city of Berkeley, California, gave roaring support for a one-cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks, the first ever in the United States.

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Amidst all the revelry and regret concerning the Republican election-day sweep, it was easy to miss another groundbreaking victory. Voters in the city of Berkeley, California, gave roaring support for a one-cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks, the first ever in the United States.

As many as 30 previous attempts by U.S. cities and states to tax away sugar in soda have failed, including ballot efforts in San Francisco, Richmond, and El Monte, California, this year alone. What seems like a perfect opportunity for bootleggers and Baptists to perform their political magic just hasn't been working very well.

Why "bootleggers and Baptists"? Recall that both historically supported laws that shut down liquor stores on Sunday, but for entirely different reasons. Taking the moral high ground, the Baptists fervently hoped to see a decline in alcohol consumption. Just as fervently, the bootleggers longed to eliminate competition at least for one day a week. Together, they formed a powerful duo.

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