More Cities Opt for Soda Taxes

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Nov 16, 2016

Proponents for a tax on soda and other soft drinks may get thirsty for more as voters approved ballot initiatives for soda taxes in Boulder, Colo. and three cities in California's Bay Area last week.

Reports note that advocates of the taxes set their sights on a broad expansion next year, with a statewide measure in Illinois and a city initiative in Santa Fe, N.M.. "The wind is at our back," said Howard Wolfson, senior adviser to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who funds the efforts through his foundation. "My guess is there will be an explosion of cities and counties and municipalities next year that will pursue a soda tax."

Last week, Chicago's Cook County, which includes Chicago, approved a penny-an-ounce tax on sugar-containing and artificially sweetened drinks and earlier this year, Philadelphia approved a "sugary" beverages tax. Voters in three cities in California passed ballot measures to place a one cent-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, a move aimed at tackling obesity. In San Francisco, 62 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the tax on sweetened soft drinks. Similar measures passed in Oakland and Albany, Calif. The city of Boulder passed a 2 cents-per-ounce tax.

The tax covers carbonated soft drinks, whether sweetened with sugar or a sugar alternative, sports drinks and energy drinks. Fruit drinks also will be taxed, but 100-percent fruit juice is exempt.

Karen Larimer, a volunteer with the American Heart Association who worked on Chicago's Cook County legislation, said budget problems in Illinois combined with the success of grassroots health advocates would make a winning argument statewide. "Our next move is to focus on the state of Illinois," she said.

However, proponents of the tax expect getting additional measures approved will be a difficult and expensive. Those against the measures spent $30 million in the San Francisco Bay Area, $10 million in Philadelphia and $1.4 million in Cook County, observed Leah Marcus, who leads Bloomberg Philanthropies, a foundation that, according to Marcus, contributed $21 million this year to the campaigns in Boulder, Cook County and the California cities. The foundation previously contributed $1.6 million to efforts in Philadelphia and $650,000 to the pioneering a 2014 ballot initiative in Berkeley, Calif., she said.

The American Beverage Association, which represents soda manufacturers and other opponents, contends the taxes hurt consumers and the revenues don't necessarily pay for better health. In a statement, the beverage association said it remained committed to comprehensive actions to cut sugar consumption, despite disagreeing over taxes.

"We're providing new beverage options, information and encouragement to help people cut back on calories and sugar," the association stated. "While we may disagree with some on discriminatory taxes, our work with public health and civic groups to actually reduce calories and sugar consumption is a stronger way forward to bring about lasting change. We will remain engaged in public health issues because we, too, want a healthy America."

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