Evidence of a health risk 'signalling effect' following the introduction of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.
Food policy 2020 ; 102: 102104.
PubMed ID : 34404960
PMCID : PMC8346947
Consuming sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has been associated with increased rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, making SSBs an increasingly popular target for taxation. In addition to changing prices, the introduction of an SSB tax may convey information about the health risks of SSBs (a signalling effect). If SSB taxation operates in part by producing a health risk signal, there may be important opportunities to amplify this effect. Our aim was to assess whether there is evidence of a risk signalling effect following the introduction of the Barbados SSB tax. We used process tracing to assess the existence of a signalling effect around sodas and sugar-sweetened juices (juice drinks). We used three data sources: 611 archived transcripts of local television news, 30 interviews with members of the public, and electronic point of sales data (46 months) from a major grocery store chain. We used directed content analysis to assess the qualitative data and an interrupted time series analysis to assess the quantitative data. We found evidence consistent with a risk signalling effect following the introduction of the SSB tax for sodas but not for juice drinks. Consistent with risk signalling theory, the findings suggest that consumers were aware of the tax, believed in a health rationale for the tax, understood that sodas were taxed and perceived that sodas and juice drinks were unhealthy. However consumers appear not to have understood that juice drinks were taxed, potentially reducing tax effectiveness from a health perspective. In addition, the tax may have incentivised companies to increase advertising around juice drinks (undermining any signalling effect) and to introduce low-cost SSB product lines. Policymakers can maximize the impact of risk signals by being clear about the definition of taxed SSBs, emphasizing the health rationale for introducing such a policy, and introducing co-interventions (e.g. marketing restrictions) that reduce opportunities for industry countersignals. These actions may amplify the impact of an SSB tax.