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Public acceptability of nudging and taxing to reduce consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and food: A population-based survey experiment


  • Reynolds, J.P.
  • Archer, S.
  • Pilling, M.
  • Kenny, M.
  • Hollands, G.J.
  • Marteau, T.M.


There is growing evidence for the effectiveness of choice architecture or ‘nudge’ interventions to change a range of behaviours including the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and food. Public acceptability is key to implementing these and other interventions. However, few studies have assessed public acceptability of these interventions, including the extent to which acceptability varies with the type of intervention, the target behaviour and with evidence of intervention effectiveness. These were assessed in an online study using a between-participants full factorial design with three factors: Policy (availability vs size vs labelling vs tax) x Behaviour (alcohol consumption vs tobacco use vs high-calorie snack food consumption) x Evidence communication (no message vs assertion of policy effectiveness vs assertion and quantification of policy effectiveness [e.g., a 10% change in behaviour]). Participants (N = 7058) were randomly allocated to one of the 36 groups. The primary outcome was acceptability of the policy. Acceptability differed across policy, behaviour and evidence communication (all ps < .001). Labelling was the most acceptable policy (supported by 78%) and Availability the least (47%). Tobacco use was the most acceptable behaviour to be targeted by policies (73%) compared with policies targeting Alcohol (55%) and Food (54%). Relative to the control group (60%), asserting evidence of effectiveness increased acceptability (63%); adding a quantification to this assertion did not significantly increase this further (65%). Public acceptability for nudges and taxes to improve population health varies with the behaviour targeted and the type of intervention but is generally favourable. Communicating that these policies are effective can increase support by a small but significant amount, suggesting that highlighting effectiveness could contribute to mobilising public demand for policies. While uncertainty remains about the strength of public support needed, this may help overcome political inertia and enable action on behaviours that damage population and planetary health.

Suggested Citation

  • Reynolds, J.P. & Archer, S. & Pilling, M. & Kenny, M. & Hollands, G.J. & Marteau, T.M., 2019. "Public acceptability of nudging and taxing to reduce consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and food: A population-based survey experiment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 236(C), pages 1-1.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:236:y:2019:i:c:7
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112395

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Cameron Brick & Alexandra L. J. Freeman & Steven Wooding & William J. Skylark & Theresa M. Marteau & David J. Spiegelhalter, 2018. "Winners and losers: communicating the potential impacts of policies," Palgrave Communications, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 4(1), pages 1-13, December.
    2. Howarth, David & Marteau, Theresa M. & Coutts, Adam P. & Huppert, Julian L. & Pinto, Pedro Ramos, 2019. "What do the British public think of inequality in health, wealth, and power?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 222(C), pages 198-206.
    3. Pechey, Rachel & Burge, Peter & Mentzakis, Emmanouil & Suhrcke, Marc & Marteau, Theresa M., 2014. "Public acceptability of population-level interventions to reduce alcohol consumption: A discrete choice experiment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 104-109.
    4. Reisch, Lucia A. & Sunstein, Cass R. & Gwozdz, Wencke, 2017. "Viewpoint: Beyond carrots and sticks: Europeans support health nudges," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 1-10.
    5. Reynolds, J.P. & Pilling, M. & Marteau, T.M., 2018. "Communicating quantitative evidence of policy effectiveness and support for the policy: Three experimental studies," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 218(C), pages 1-12.
    6. Mazzocchi, Mario & Cagnone, Silvia & Bech-Larsen, Tino & Niedźwiedzka, Barbara & Saba, Anna & Shankar, Bhavani & Verbeke, Wim & Traill, W Bruce, 2015. "What is the public appetite for healthy eating policies? Evidence from a cross-European survey," Health Economics, Policy and Law, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(3), pages 267-292, July.
    7. Vivianne H. M. Visschers & Ree M. Meertens & Wim W. F. Passchier & Nanne N. K. De Vries, 2009. "Probability Information in Risk Communication: A Review of the Research Literature," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 29(2), pages 267-287, February.
    8. Hagmann, Désirée & Siegrist, Michael & Hartmann, Christina, 2018. "Taxes, labels, or nudges? Public acceptance of various interventions designed to reduce sugar intake," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 79(C), pages 156-165.
    9. Promberger, Marianne & Dolan, Paul & Marteau, Theresa M., 2012. "“Pay them if it works”: Discrete choice experiments on the acceptability of financial incentives to change health related behaviour," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(12), pages 2509-2514.
    10. Li, Jessica & Lovatt, Melanie & Eadie, Douglas & Dobbie, Fiona & Meier, Petra & Holmes, John & Hastings, Gerard & MacKintosh, Anne Marie, 2017. "Public attitudes towards alcohol control policies in Scotland and England: Results from a mixed-methods study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 177(C), pages 177-189.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Agent relationships and information asymmetries in public health
      by Bren Collins in The Academic Health Economists' Blog on 2019-12-11 07:00:00


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