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Soda tax up to SF voters in November

February 17, 2014

Courtesy of First 5 Contra Costa County

Image Credit: Courtesy of First 5 Contra Costa County

As we experienced with cigarettes, it is only a matter of time before the costs of childhood obesity and other preventable chronic illnesses compels us to take action.

Sen. Bill Monning

California State Senator, D-Carmel

The soda tax will see a vote in San Francisco in November 2014, despite industry objections.

San Franciscans will decide a proposed city of San Francisco ordinance that would tax soda and other sweetened drinks at 2 cents per ounce.

Education and recreation funding

If enacted, funds collected from the tax would go in part to the San Francisco Unified School District. Nutritional education and recreational activities would be supported to help kids keep the pounds off,  said Yoyo Chen, spokeswoman for San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen.

Cohen is a sponsor of the San Francisco bill. She serves South East San Francisco, an area with a high rate of childhood obesity and diabetes.

Sugary drinks linked to obesity and diabetes

According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy sugary drinks are a leading contributor to the obesity and diabetes epidemics.

Research shows that 43 percent of increased daily calories Americans consumed from 1977 to 2001 came from soda and other sugary drinks, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

Public education is needed

The tax itself isn’t expected to instantly curb soda consumption. “We have to make sure people understand the correlation between sugary beverages and health problems,” Chen said, pointing out that sugary beverages were often providers of empty calories—that is, calories that have no nutritional value.

In New York City, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was famous for taking aim at the soda industry with disturbing public service ads showing globs of yellow fat pouring out of a soda bottle. The graphic ads got the message across: Soda is not safe.

One of the problems is access, Chen said. “A lot of people can get a bottle of soda for less money for a bottle of water. We need to think about how we can expand the access to healthier foods in high impact communities.”

Fighting against the tax

The American Beverage Association  may wage war against the tax as it has in other California municipalities.

They claim sugary drink producers are being unfairly singled out, held responsible for an obesity epidemic that cannot entirely be blamed on them.

In Richmond and El Monte, California, the association spent millions of dollars to squash ballot measures in 2012.

Statewide efforts to pass a Soda Tax in California

In January 2014, a soda tax bill sponsored by California state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, failed to make it to a vote by the end of the legislative session and was therefore no longer being considered.

Monning said he was disappointed but remained committed to the issue. However, due to legislative rules the same bill may not again be introduced so he will have to go back to the drawing board.

“I remain committed to pursuing this issue and bringing public awareness to the health dangers of sugary drinks,” stated Monning. “As we experienced with cigarettes, it is only a matter of time before the costs of childhood obesity and other preventable chronic illnesses compels us to take action.”

Similarities to the Tobacco Tax

Legislators want voters to see the soda tax as similar to the tobacco tax, which has lead to increased education and a correlating decline in smoking. Lawmakers hope that if the San Francisco soda tax passes, it will pave the way for the state of California and other cities to consider similar legislation.

“We worked on the tobacco tax, and when the tobacco tax was introduced a lot of people were skeptical,” Chen said, “but like that tax, we just have to understand what this tax is and where it is going.”