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How to Talk About SSB Taxes


Advocating for sugar-sweetened beverage taxes can be a challenge for even the most seasoned Leader. Studies suggest that a 10 percent price increase in sugary drinks would decrease consumption of these unhealthy beverages by 8 to 10 percent. That’s a good thing, considering SSBs have been linked to obesity and other related (and expensive!) conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

But like we said, talking about SSBs can be difficult. With that in mind, our friends at the Berkeley Media Studies Group offered the tips below to help Leaders like you talk about why SSB taxes are vital to the effort to reduce obesity:

  1. Don’t Inadvertently Help the Opposition: Avoid words and phrases that will trigger the audience to think about your opponent's perspective on the issue. When talking about soda taxes, it's particularly important to avoid phrases evoking the idea of government overreach, or soda as an issue of personal liberties. We've seen examples of soda tax proponents saying things such as: “This is not about us being food Nazis, this is a sensible policy.” That might be true, but bringing up the idea of “food Nazi” in the audience’s mind only damages your cause. Other common phrases to avoid are “nanny state” or “slippery slope.”
  2. Avoid Overly Scientific Language: We often saw this happen when people tried to explain in too much detail why sugary drinks are uniquely harmful. Especially if spokespeople have a medical/scientific background and are accustomed to using technical terms, it's good to think about how to boil down those ideas into very simple statements, using words that people are likely to understand.   
  3. Cue the Environment: Providing a context for why the policy is needed means not only talking about obesity and diabetes, but also the unhealthy food environment in many communities, and the massive marketing and spending that the soda industry does to market sugary drinks to kids, especially low-income kids of color.
  4. Tell a Story: Storytelling can help people make a personal connection to the issue. It can be very powerful to tell individualized stories about the health effects of sugary drinks, such as loved ones who are struggling with diabetes. Alternatively, it might be a story about children benefitting from sports programs that would be funded by the tax.