Two California cities — Richmond in Northern California’s Contra Costa County and El Monte in Los Angeles County — have proposed a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages, including sodas and energy drinks. The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (funded by the American Beverage Association) has spent approximately $3.5 million to defeat the measures. The coalition argues that it’s a tax on the poor, and it will hurt small businesses.
In Richmond, non-profits like Fit For Life and the Richmond Progressive Alliance are urging the community to vote yes on Measure N on November 6th. They argue the tax is a step forward for the city, and that revenue for the taxes can be used to fight childhood obesity.
I visited Richmond Main Street’s Spirit and Soul Festival and the city’s Certified Farmer’s Market to see what some Richmond residents thought about the measure. Most of the people I approached didn’t know about the tax, and many were undecided. Below are three responses from people in support of the proposed tax, and three in opposition.
NO ON MEASURE N
“I think that it is absolutely ridiculous. If I have a Diet Pepsi and I want a Diet Pepsi, I’m gonna get it. If the soda cost a dollar and then I had to pay a dollar fifty or something to that effect, I’m going to pay it ‘cuz I want a Pepsi. Healthier food is more expensive than junk foods. So I can definitely see if they raise the taxes on junk food and lower the taxes on healthier foods such as vegetables and different fibers and different stuff like that, than that would make more sense. But just taxing junk food alone? Absolutely not. I think that the focus should be on education and children and raising the children, period. And stopping the violence in Richmond. Instead of soda, and chips and cookies.” Dionicio Arechiga:
“Right now I’m working at La Flor de Jalisco Market. It’s on 21st and MacDonald Street. We sell a bunch of groceries. The majority of clientele is Mexican people. Our sales are pretty decent. We make enough money for the size of the store that we have. Our biggest sales come from the deli and the sodas, because we have a burrito truck outside. If this tax passes our concern is that people will buy less sodas. We do not sell alcohol here. We also do not sell tobacco or lotto tickets. So if the soda tax hurts us on that side than we might have to look for other markets and probably sell liquor and beer, and that not gonna help Richmond out.”
“It’s not gonna stop people from buying soda, they’re gonna drink what they wanna drink. I’m mean, there’s taxes on many things. Look at the gas prices – has it stopped people from driving yet? No. Look at the toll plaza. You gonna do what you have to do it. I don’t drink soda a lot but if decide I want a soda, I’m gonna buy that soda. If you don’t want your family to drink soda you have to stop by buying. It’s up to the home to do what they’re gonna do. It’s not up to the store owner or the tax payers or whatever. It’s up to one individual, ‘Are you gonna drink this soda or are you not gonna drink this soda?'”
YES ON MEASURE N
“We have an epidemic of sugar consumption in this country, I think. It’s a real health issues with the youth of today. And what I’ve noticed is that there’s a huge influx of out-of-state money, and money from the large corporations to defeat this initiative because it’s in their best interest to keep selling people poison. It’s like with the cigarette tax. You know I mean that’s the analogy I would use. People have to see the costs involved. There’s a hidden cost. We can pay it up front or pay it later. Your kids could get fat, or you can teach them to eat right.”
“I hear a lot of negative comments about how it’s gonna damage small business, and how you know it’s a tax on the poor. But to be perfectly honest I feel that obesity is such an issue. I mean we’re not exactly a high income family, but I feel like that money could be spent on different beverages that are not sweetened. I mean, I don’t know if I buy that is an attack on low-income families. I kind of think of the tax almost like an additional concern when I make a purchase. “Is this something I really want? Is this something I really need?” We’ve done the exact same thing with tobacco, and Big Tobacco is doing fine and people who sell tobacco are doing fine. We increase taxes for alcohol and tobacco because we realize there’s an issues there and I feel like we need to make some similar movement on sweetened beverages.”
Marilyn Langlois, running for Richmond City Council:
“I am a very strong supporter of the sugar-sweetened beverage tax in Richmond that will be on the ballot. I think it’s going to put Richmond at the cutting edge, at the forefront of health promotion in the country. We really have a problem with diabetes and obesity and this is really doing something positive to educate people about the really negative impact of drinking excessive sodas. I’m all for it. I think a lot of people have stopped drinking sodas already and this will really educate them some more. It will raise money that we can then use for more healthy sports and recreation programs. So I think it’s a win-win. Buying soda is a discretionary expense, nobody has to buy it. If there’s a financial hardship they could just cut back a little bit, or drink water. And those who really do want to drink soda, they can do so knowing that little part of the money they spend on their sodas is going to help some really good programs for our kids.”