Evaluation of Seattle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax

Impact of the Tax on Norms and Attitudes: The Evaluation of Seattle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax

August 2021

The University of Washington conducted a survey on Seattle’s 1.75 cent per ounce tax on sweetened beverages and found that people felt the tax was regressive and hurt neighborhood businesses in Seattle.

Key findings include:

76%

of people in Seattle believe that the burden of the tax falls heavier on working class communities and communities of color.

Support for the tax has fallen over time. Support for the tax declined from 60.4% in Oct.-Dec. 2017, just before the tax was imposed in January 2018, to 57.8% in Sept.-Nov. 2019.

There was a statistically significant increase of 11 percentage points of lower-income people surveyed who said they would shop outside of Seattle to purchase their beverages because of the tax.

The amount of those surveyed who believed the beverage tax would harm small businesses jumped 17 percentage points among the higher-income population.

Advocates of the tax sold it as a means to reduce consumption; however, this survey proves there is little to no evidence that the tax reduces consumption. Specifically:

  • Of the Seattle residents who reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, only 21% said they did so because of the tax.

  • As part of the survey, researchers compared areas outside of Seattle (“Comparison Areas”) which saw a greater decrease in sugary drink consumption than Seattle which had the tax.

12 Month Report: Store Audits & Child Cohort: The Evaluation of Seattle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax

A 2020 study by the University of Washington and the Seattle’s Children’s Research Institute found:

  • The rate of soda consumption among children in Seattle was about the same as it was for children outside of the tax zone. The tax had no effect on the calories children in Seattle got from beverages judging from this comparison.

It’s clear: A beverage tax is not the answer.

The Impact of the Seattle Sweetened Beverage Tax on Substitution to Alcoholic Beverages

2022 study by researchers at the University of Illinois says there is evidence that Seattle’s beverage tax induced consumers to buy more beer. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE by University of Illinois-Chicago researchers Lisa M. Powell and Julien Lader, compared sales of beer in Seattle both before and since adoption of the soda tax with comparable sales in nearby Portland, Ore., which has no beverage tax.

“At two-years post-tax implementation, [the] volume sold of beer in Seattle relative to Portland increased by 7%,” the authors report. “The result in this study of a significant sustained increase in volume sold of beer following the implementation of the Seattle tax suggests that (sugar-sweetened beverages) and beer are substitutes.”

The authors of the study note that dangers from “excess alcohol consumption [include] higher risk of motor accidents/deaths, liver cirrhosis, sexually transmitted diseases, crime and violence, and workplace accidents.” Another risk of consuming more beer is obesity. The study is the first to examine whether a beverage tax leads to the “potential unintended consequence” of substitution to beer.