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San Francisco Supervisor to Propose Soda Tax

| October 28, 2013
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Rex Sorgatz/Flickr

Rex Sorgatz/Flickr

(Bay City News and KQED) Sodas and other sugary beverages could get more expensive in San Francisco under a tax being proposed by a city supervisor.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Supervisor Scott Wiener plans to propose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages that have at least 25 calories per 12 ounces.

If the proposal passes the board, it would go on the November 2014 ballot to be decided by the city’s voters, requiring two-thirds approval to pass.

The tax is estimated to generate $31 million in revenue, which would be used to fund recreation and nutrition programs in the city’s schools and parks, according to Wiener’s office.

“We’re really facing a health care epidemic, particularly a growing prevalence in Type 2 diabetes, as well as obesity and other health problems directly related to the consumption of sugary beverages,” Weiner told KQED’s Mina Kim. “So it’s important to take strong public health measures to reduce [the] consumption of sugary beverages, but also to make sure we’re funding the kinds of health programs — nutrition, physical activity and other health programs — that keep people healthy.”

Wiener’s office estimates that even a one-cent-per-ounce tax could cut consumption of the sugary drinks by up to 10 percent, and that the tax would also lead to reduced costs in treating obesity or other related ailments.

The tax would not apply to diet soda, natural juices, milk, infant formula or medical drinks.

According to Wiener’s office, the idea of a sugary beverage tax has been endorsed by organizations such as the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the San Francisco Medical Society.

Last year, two similar measures, in Richmond and El Monte, took a shellacking at the ballot after the soda industry spent millions of dollars fighting them. Wiener addressed that history in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I try to cross my t’s and dot my i’s, and I wouldn’t pursue this if I didn’t think it had a chance,” Wiener said. “There will be a big fight – the beverage industry will try to pull all the shenanigans they have pulled elsewhere – but we have a strong coalition behind this. San Francisco is always at the forefront of public health issues and trying to find innovative ways to keep the city healthy.”

Wiener said Richmond’s proposal – which was handily defeated by 67 percent of voters – “was too easy to attack” because it did not require that the money be spent on health programs.

“This was carefully crafted to ensure the money is spent on nutrition, physical activity and health – and that it’s not used as a replacement,” for existing public health dollars, he said.

This afternoon, Californians For Food and Beverage Choice, an anti-soda tax group, called measures like Wiener’s “unncecesary, wasteful distractions from serious policymaking. Providing people with education, opportunities for physical activity and diverse beverage choices to fit their lifestyles are proven strategies for maintaining health.”

Despite the poor showing last year of the two soda taxes up before voters, a February Field Poll found that the public may be more receptive to the idea, depending on how the initiative is crafted. As KQED State of Health’s Lisa Aliferis blogged

While only 40 percent of voters said they favor a sugar-sweetened beverage tax, that number jumped to 68 percent if the proceeds will benefit school nutrition and physical activity programs.

“Voters in general don’t trust taxes that aren’t earmarked. They prefer to see taxes linked to something beneficial,” said Dr. Tony Iton, senior vice president of The California Endowment, which sponsored the poll. ”People that are engaged in constructing policy … should take heart in this poll and be able to look to it to construct subsequent measures for trying to engage the public support behind obesity prevention.”

A statewide bill requiring a penny-per-ounce tax on any sugary beverage for 10 years has been held up in committee.

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  • CTD

    FWIW, one teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories and a teacup is 6oz, so even that level of sweetness would be affected by this tax.

  • Todd

    This is what gives Democrats a bad name and Republicans ammunition. I ask Supervisors to vote against this proposal and Superbisor Weiner to spend his time on more important issues. As a public school teacher I do not see kids drinking that much soda, it’s the food (Hot Cheetos) they consume that is packing on the pounds.

  • MaureenABA

    As this article notes, voters defeated similar
    measures in El Monte and Richmond, and a comparable proposal in the State
    Senate was voted down too. That’s because research and real life examples of
    soda excise taxes prove this type of policy simply won’t help health; in fact,
    soda taxes may produce the opposite effect, causing increased calorie
    consumption of other sources: http://bit.ly/mmmpt.

    If we want to get serious about reducing or preventing obesity, we
    need to start with education – not laws and regulation. What we eat, drink and feed our families is
    our own choice and does not need government control, oversight or influence.- Maureen at American Beverage Association