Richmond soda tax

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Study: Soda Tax Would Boost Health of Blacks, Latinos

By Christina Jewett, Bay Citizen

(Tessek: Flickr)

(Tessek: Flickr)

A tax on soda would carry the greatest health benefits for black and Latino Californians, who face the highest risks of diabetes and heart disease, according to recent research findings.

The study found that if a penny-per-ounce tax was applied to soda, cuts in consumption would result in an 8 percent decline in diabetes cases among blacks and Latinos. The statewide reduction in new diabetes cases is projected at 3 to 5.6 percent, according to researchers from UC San Francisco, Columbia University and Oregon State University, who released their findings at last week’s American Public Health Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

The study was unveiled as a sugar-sweetened beverage tax faces votes in El Monte, in Los Angeles County, and Richmond, in the Bay Area. A statewide excise tax was proposed but died in the California Legislature in 2010.

The statewide reduction in new diabetes cases is projected at 3 to 5.6 percent.

Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said he has visited Richmond to urge support for the measure. He said he heard residents speak of loved ones who’ve been affected by diabetes complications — such as limb amputations and blindness — during a recent town hall meeting at a Richmond church.

Goldstein said residents of both cities, though, face the pressure of nearly $3 million in spending by the beverage industry, which opposes the measures. Continue reading

Locals React to Anti-Soda Tax Campaign in Richmond

By Andrew Stelzer

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(Rex Sorgatz: Flickr)

(Rex Sorgatz: Flickr)

From the get-go, the face of Richmond’s proposed tax on sugar sweetened beverages has been city Councilmember Jeff Ritterman. “If we’re successful we’ll make history,” he tells me.

Ritterman is a retired cardiologist who got the council to put the penny-per-ounce tax on next month’s ballot. He says improving the health of the local community isn’t the only goal.

“Once the sugar-sweetened beverage taxes become ubiquitous — and I’m pretty sure they will, it’s just a question of when,” he says, “if we are victorious it will happen a lot sooner.”

But the health issues behind the tax have taken a back seat to questions about how the city will spend the money the tax would raise.

The main argument from Measure N opponents is that the tax proceeds won’t necessarily go to fight obesity. While there is an accompanying measure before voters to direct the money to obesity-fighting efforts, the money raised would go into the city’s general fund. Billboards and flyers all over town — paid for by the American Beverage Association, a soft drink lobbying group — drive that “general fund” message home.

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Can a Penny-an-Ounce Soda Tax Curb Obesity?

Jorge Cota has lost more than 70 pounds since giving up soda and making other changes to his diet. (Mina Kim: KQED)

Jorge Cota, 17, has lost more than 70 pounds since giving up soda and making other changes to his diet. (Mina Kim: KQED)

Jorge Cota says he always gets a little nervous when he comes to Children’s Hospital in Oakland for his bi-monthly weigh-in.

“I’m wondering oh, did I lose this much weight, or did I not lose this much, if I gain weight I’m going to be mad,” says the 17-year-old high school football player from Tracy. “It’s just a lot of things going through my mind that I get nervous about when I come to the doctors, especially here.”

It was here at Children’s, about a year ago, that Jorge learned his health was in trouble.

“They told me that I was a pre-diabetic, that I also had high blood pressure, and they thought there was something wrong with my heart or my kidneys.”

“It was a scary moment,” Jorge’s mom Linda Ramos says. “When they were telling us, he started crying, he was scared, and that woke him up.”

At 16, Jorge was 5’11” and weighed 321 pounds.

“So I was a pretty big boy,” Jorge says with a smile.

His drink of choice was Dr. Pepper. Jorge says he’d drink two or three cans or bottles of soda a day. That added up to as much as 50 teaspoons of sugar.

“We just cut it out,” Linda Ramos says. “Not only the soda cut out, the way I cook at home for him, the junk food, the way we shop.” Continue reading

Movie Theater Chain Lines Up Against Richmond Soda Tax

No on N, Richmond soda tax billboard

Billboard (Photo: Kristin Farr)

Cinemark – owner of the Century movie theater line – has jumped into the debate over Richmond’s proposed tax on sugary beverages, known as Measure N.

Last quarter, the company contributed more than $107,000 in non-monetary contributions against the measure, from Jul 15 to Sep 30, according to KQED News Associate Richmond Confidential.

Rachel de Leon of Richmond Confidential visited the only movie theater in town, Century Hilltop Sixteen, to see how some of the money is being spent. “I saw that the employees behind the concession stands were wearing ‘No on Measure N’ t-shirts, and there were several large posters hanging up saying ‘No on Measure N’ and listing off why this would be harmful to businesses.”

The theater also plays an anti-soda tax trailer before movies begin. So far, the “No On ‘N’” campaign has spent more than $2 million fighting the measure.

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Read the full Richmond Confidential report here

Soda Industry Outspends Beverage Tax Supporters 10-1 in Richmond

by William Harless, California Watch

Groups aligned with the soda industry already have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars as Richmond prepares to vote on raising taxes on sweetened drinks an extra penny an ounce. Since the spring, tax opponents have outspent supporters almost 10 to 1, new financial records show.

A group backed by the American Beverage Association sent this mailer to Richmond voters. (Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners)

The American Beverage Association, a Washington, D.C., trade organization that represents PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and other major beverage companies, has spent $150,000 to fight the soda tax measure since June, according to recently released campaign finance disclosures.

The Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, the beverage association-backed organization created to defeat the tax, spent an additional $200,000, according to campaign finance records. The money is going largely to political consulting, attorney, and polling and research firms. Almost $60,000 was earmarked for outdoor advertising.

Meanwhile, another organization has entered the fray to support the tax. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a nonprofit group with offices in Oakland, Davis and Los Angeles, has spent about $21,600 on polling and focus groups.

Richmond City Council Member Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist who is leading the campaign for the sweetened-beverage tax, said he believes soda drinkers will start to turn to tap water, saving money and drinking something healthier. He said the American Beverage Association is worried that Richmond will set a trend.

“I think they’re quite aware that if these dominoes begin to fall, a lot more will,” he said, referring to the two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, in Los Angeles County, that are considering penny-per-ounce sweetened-beverage taxes, which would be the first of their kind in the United States.

Ritterman and a handful of Bay Area residents have raised about $10,400 for their own campaign, dubbed Richmond Fit for Life, and have sent out brochures and mailers advocating for the tax, outlining obesity statistics and describing how it and a companion health measure are phrased on the November ballot.

The Richmond City Council voted to place the soda tax on the November ballot. Ritterman estimates the measure would raise $3 million a year, which advocates want to use for obesity programs, school fruit and vegetable gardens, and playing fields. The tax would apply to soft drinks and other beverages with added sugar.

Opponents of the soda tax point out that the ballot measure does not guarantee the new money would be spent on health measures, though supporters say they have enough pledges from City Council members to ensure it would be.

“Our campaign activities are and will continue to be focused on helping voters cut through the false claims of the tax backers,” Chuck Finnie, a vice president of the San Francisco public relations firm Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners, which is working on the campaign to defeat the tax, said in a statement. “They say the measure is intended to fight obesity but they know not one thin dime is being raised specifically for new public health, recreation and other anti-obesity programs.”

Both sides have sent out mailers, including one by the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes that irked soda-tax supporter Tom Butt, a Richmond City Council member. Last week, he sent a complaint to the city’s attorney claiming the mailer didn’t contain the specific disclosure, as Butt said city law requires: “Major funding from large out-of-city contributors.”

“Although the BS (Big Soda) campaign is free to use the rest of the mailer to imply that this was paid for by local interests, it is not free to do that in the part of the mailer where the disclosure is required,” Butt wrote, forwarding this complaint to his constituents in an e-mail.

The brochure does mention American Beverage Association funding at its bottom. And Finnie said the city’s requirement for disclosing out-of-city contributions applies to independent expenditure committees, not campaigns against specific ballot measures like the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes.

“It is Councilmen Butt and Ritterman who are misleading voters,” Finnie said. “They are misleading voters by failing to acknowledge the so-called soda tax is going to raise the cost of living on everyone, not just on consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages and certainly not just on soda drinkers.”

William Harless is a journalist with California Watch.

Arguments Take Shape in Battle Over Richmond Soda Tax

(Photo: ciukes/Flickr)

“This product is toxic.”

That’s Richmond Councilman Jeff Ritterman at a council debate in May. The product at issue is not a pesticide or even an oven cleaner; what Ritterman, the former chief of cardiology at Kaiser Medical Center in Richmond was describing is sugar, or more specifically the sugar found in sweetened beverages for sale. Ritterman is the author of the so-called Richmond “soda tax,” voted onto the November ballot by the city council  in May.

If the measure passes, a 1 cent-per-ounce fee will be imposed on all Richmond businesses “that sell any drink containing added sugars, including fruit smoothies, fountain drinks, soft drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks,” reports the Contra Costa Times. “Markets, food stands, food trucks and restaurants would be expected to use inventory figures to calculate sales and pay the tax, according to city staff reports.” Continue reading