Sugar Tax: The History, Current Players, and Relevant Mechanisms

Sugar has a long history of being considered delicious and fermenting political strife. For example, in 1733, the British Parliament enacted the infamous Molasses Act. Molasses was a key ingredient for rum, at the time a very popular and considered to be quite delicious beverage. The Molasses Act was essentially a high 6 cents per gallon tax on, of course,  molasses. But it was never enforced and an unintended consequence of the tax was a black market.ce1c1316ecd584030eed9906be2eb12f

In 1764, due to increasing debt, the British Parliament decided to change the name from the Molasses Act to the Sugar Act. More importantly, they decreased the tax to a less onerous 3 cents per gallon, and began enforcing it. But, it didn’t matter much as the American colonies were upset about its existence, so they refused to pay it, and coined the famous slogan “taxation without representation”, as a description of how the British Parliament was imposing a tax on colonial citizens without considering their concerns and grievances.

England and Canada are considering adding a tax to sugar-sweetened beverages. However, currently in the United States or abroad any topic related to adding a reasonably small tax to sugar-sweetened beverages creates a powerful push back by the multi-billion dollar beverage industry and lobby. For example, during Oakland’s efforts to add tax to sugar-sweetened beverages, it was reported that soda companies outspent grassroots efforts 32:1 in opposition to the proposed tax.  In Berkeley, the grassroots organization’s slogan was, “Berkeley vs Big Soda”.

Relevant Statutory and Regulatory Mechanisms

In an interview with me on 31 January 2017, former Arizona State House of Represenitives member, Stephanie Mach, explained vital components to initiating a sugar-sweetened beverage tax including:

  • Detailed definitions
    • is the proposed tax on syrups, sweeteners, concentrated liquids, etc
    • Is the tax per ounce, per beverage, per quantity of processed sugar additives, etc
    • Who would pay the tax (i.e., the manufacturing company, the distributor, other middle-men, the consumer, etc)?
  • Other pros and cons

In regards to Berkeley, the process started as a grassroots effort to design “Measure D”. Organizers of the grassroots effort began by speaking with Dr. Jeff Ritterman, a former Richmand City Councilman, to learn why the proposed tax in Richmond City failed. They learned that the soda industry spent  $2.3 million dollars to defeat the measure, convincing churches and other groups to oppose the tax, and also encouraged people to boycott all companies that supported the tax. With this knowledge, the Berkeley grassroots group developed a long-term plan to improve the health of community members by decreasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. They warned people of what the lobbies for and the soda companies were likely to do, and they also got volunteers to go door-to-door, canvasing neighborhoods, making flyers, and making phone calls. Measure D passed by 73% in 2014!

Here about the mechanisms involved


Berkeley vs Big Soda. (2017). Berkeley vs big soda. Retrieved from

Dinkelspiel, F. (2014). Why Berkeley passed a soda tax while other cities failed. Berkeleyside. Retrieved from

Huehnergarth, N. (2014, September 9). Big soda’s open letter to San Francisco on the soda tax [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Kobayashi, L. (2013, March 28). The not-so-sweet politics of sugar consumption [Blog comment]. Retrieved from

US History. (2017). The Sugar Act. Retrieved from

Metabolic Syndrome explained

…(drums) and Researchista’s first Special Guest_Professor is Professor Dr. Ronit Shiri-Sverdlov! This is Research on HEALTH month and this month we will talk about me-ta-bo-lism. Let’s recall from school what metabolism actually means? Metabolē means “change” in Greek and is the set of chemical transformations within the cells of living organisms (that does not only include humans, but also plants and animals). This post is about Metabolic Syndrome. I hope the post below will inspire to eat fat in a smart way!

via (46) Research on HEALTH: metabolism. —