After a hold-up in the courts, a new Cook County soda tax will go into effect tomorrow, August 2nd. The tax will collect $0.01 per ounce of sweetened beverages. This works out to $1.44 for a 12-pack of soda. The tax is expected to generate over $200 million dollars for Cook County each year.
While soda taxes are controversial, I encourage shoppers to drink less soda. A robust amount of evidence links sugary drinks with a host of detrimental outcomes, such as obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, and dental disease. While sugary drinks are certainly not the only place you’ll find sugar in the diet, Americans do drink most of their sugar.
However, the Cook County tax is unique from most other soda taxes in that it includes artificially sweetened, or “diet”, beverages as well. The scientific evidence of harm from diet drinks is less certain than that of sugar-sweetened drinks.
And the policy doesn’t stop there. Here’s what's being taxed:
- All beverages sweetened with sugar or a sugar-derivative (like high-fructose corn syrup). This includes soda, sports drinks, flavored water, fountain drinks, energy drinks, pre-made sweetened coffee or tea, and fruit-ades like lemonade.
Note: It doesn’t matter how much sugar is in the drink —even if it only has 1g, it’s still taxed. When reading labels, remember that sugar goes by many names.
- Low-calorie or calorie-free drinks that are sweetened with artificial sweeteners like Aspartame or Splenda.
- Low-calorie or calorie-free drinks that are sweetened with natural, non-caloric sweeteners like stevia or monkfruit.
Note: this means that even brands that are healthy alternatives to soda, like Bai, Hint, and Vitamin Water, are taxed.
Here’s what’s not being taxed:
- 100% natural fruit or vegetables juice with no added sweetener (e.g. 100% orange juice).
- Any drink in which the main (more than 50%) ingredient is milk. This includes soy milk, rice milk, and other milk substitutes.
- Drinks for medical use (e.g. Ensure or Boost).
- Meal replacement drinks (e.g. Slim Fast).
- “Drinks” in syrup or powder form that the consumer combines with water to create a beverage.
- Infant formula
Switching to an unsweetened beverage has always been good for your health. Now, it’s good for your wallet, too. If it’s time to make a swap, I recommend La Croix or Perrier. Both products are calorie-free, sugar-free, carbonated, and come in many tasty, natural flavors. Neither are included in the tax.
A final note: if you can’t stomach the tax on your favorite drinks, our Highland Park, Lake Forest, Libertyville, and Long Grove stores do not tax sweetened beverages.