Soda Tax

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How Coverage of Richmond, El Monte Soda Tax Proposals Played Out

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond city councilman who introduced Richmond's soda tax, campaigns for its passage in August, 2012.  (Mina Kim/KQED)

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond City Council member  who introduced Richmond’s soda tax, campaigns for its passage in August, 2012. (Mina Kim/KQED)

In 2012, voters in the California cities of Richmond and El Monte soundly defeated proposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The ballot measures were widely covered by local, state and national press. Now, 15 months later comes an analysis of that coverage, a look at what themes were covered on both sides.

To be clear, the analysis comes not from a journalism school, but from the Berkeley Media Studies Group, a public health advocacy organization. BMSG looked at more than 200 news stories and opinion pieces — with nearly two-thirds of the coverage focused on Richmond.

Richmond and El Monte proposed similar taxes — a penny per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages — but for different reasons. In Richmond, the tax was placed on the ballot as a public health measure, to fight childhood obesity. El Monte (Los Angeles County) was facing bankruptcy and saw a soda tax as way to bolster funds for city services. “One of the key takeaways that we saw had to do a lot with how the opposition campaigns differed, based on the unique character of each of the cities that we studied,” said Pam Mejia, lead author of the study. Continue reading

Study: No Job Loss from Soda Tax

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, would have no negative effect on jobs, a new study shows. In fact, there would be a small increase, researchers estimate.

A team led by Lisa Powell, an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, analyzed the effect of a 20 percent tax on sugar-swettened beverages. That works out to a little more than a penny-per-ounce. They looked at the impact in two states: Illinois and California.

“Effectively we found that there was pretty much zero change in jobs, zero net effect,” Powell told me in an interview.  Continue reading

Is San Francisco Primed to Approve a Soda Tax?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener says he will propose a 2 cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. If the board passes his proposal, San Francisco voters will see it on the ballot next November.

This tax is double the amount proposed last year in elections in the California cities of Richmond and El Monte. Those were a penny-per-ounce each and both were defeated by voters.

In addition to the amount of the tax, there’s another major difference between Wiener’s proposal and the two that failed. In Wiener’s plan, revenues generated by the tax — an estimated $31 million per year — would be earmarked for children’s recreation and nutrition programs. In Richmond and El Monte, revenues would have gone to the general fund. Voters were skeptical that soda tax revenues would ever really fund children’s health programs, despite city council resolutions that they would.

Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said he thinks the plan has “a very good chance” before San Francisco voters, specifically because of the earmarked funds. Continue reading

New Factors in Play for Legislators Considering Statewide Soda Tax

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A soda tax failed at the ballot at two California cities last November. Before that, a statewide soda tax failed two years ago. But advocates and legislators are trying again. A bill that would require a penny-per-ounce tax on any sugary beverage is back in front of legislators and, so far, has passed out of two Senate committees.

The bill by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) has two explicit goals: to “discourage excessive consumption” by increasing the price of sugary drinks and to create a Children’s Health Promotion Fund.

“We’re in the midst of a public health crisis fueled by childhood obesity,” CaliforniaHealthline reports Monning said to the Senate Committee on Health last week. “This legislation sets an alternative path toward health and wellness.”

The health committee approved the bill. Next stop is the Senate appropriations committee.

While the soda industry is expected to be back in force for this bill, as it was for the other soda-tax efforts, this time there are new forces in play. Continue reading

Bill for Statewide Soda Tax Introduced

By Mina Kim

(poolie/Flickr)

(poolie/Flickr)

Richmond voters may have crushed an effort to pass a soda tax last fall, but that’s not stopping one lawmaker from trying to tax sodas statewide.

State Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) tried to pass a statewide soda tax two years ago that failed, but with Democrats expected to hang on to supermajorities in both houses, Monning thinks this time is different.

“The political train has changed in 2012, but it’s still not going to be automatic by any means,” Monning says. “Any tax is going to be an uphill fight.”

Monning’s bill would slap distributors of sugary drinks with an excise tax of a penny-per-ounce, the same amount that was proposed in Richmond and El Monte, in southern California. The bill would further create a Children’s Health Promotion Fund which would then split all revenue between the State Department of Public Health and Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A recent Field Poll showed support for a tax if the money went to children’s nutrition and physical education. Continue reading

Most Californians Support Soda Tax If It Benefits Children’s Health

 (La Piazza Pizzeria/Flickr)

(La Piazza Pizzeria/Flickr)

Just over three months since voters in two California cities — Richmond and El Monte — flatly turned down soda taxes, a new Field Poll released Thursday found a majority of California voters say they would support a soda tax if the funds raised were devoted to children’s health.

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.”

Fully 75 percent of voters said they see a link between regular soda consumption and a person’s risk of being overweight or obese.
The Field Poll reported that support for such an earmarked tax was especially strong among Latinos (79 percent), Asian Americans (73 percent) and African Americans (70 percent).

“I think this poll shows that a campaign either statewide or locally in cities has an excellent chance,” Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa County’s director of public health, told the San Jose Mercury News.

But in the poll voters had the highest support — more than 80 percent — for increasing opportunities for being physically active, such as improved school sports fields and playgrounds — and keeping those facilities open after school and on weekends. Continue reading

Can Soda Taxes Lead to Weight Loss?

(Tessek: Flickr)

(Tessek: Flickr)

My KQED colleague Mina Kim produced a great piece examining whether higher soda prices leads to weight loss — and the health benefits that come with it. She profiled a 17-year-old football player from Tracy — Jorge Cota, who at 5’11″ weighed 321 pounds. He had high blood pressure and may have had heart and kidney problems. That was a year ago.

While Cota since has made many diet changes, the first thing he did was cut out his drink of choice, Dr. Pepper. He had been drinking two or three cans or bottles a day.

He’s since lost 70 pounds, Kim reports.

Still, Cota told Kim that he doubts a penny-per-ounce soda tax would make a difference in soda consumption. After all, a 20-ounce soda would go up only 20 cents.

Kim turned to Kelly Brownell, head of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. As she reports:

His group has studied how pricing changes affect consumer behavior.

“The penny-per-ounce, which is the level of tax being discussed the most around the country, is enough to affect consumption, somewhere between 10 or 20 percent or so,” Brownell says. “[That] would be enough to not make it a terrible burden on consumers, but would affect consumption of the product enough to reduce health care costs.”

More importantly, Brownell says, passage of the tax would give a big boost to the national trend away from sugary drinks that’s already begun in school districts and communities where demand for fresh local food is growing. Continue reading

Beverage Companies Blur Line Between Philanthropy & Marketing

Some soda companies have begun using cause marketing to curry public favor in the face of criticism. (La Piazza Pizzeria/Flickr)

If you were watching the Superbowl in 2010 when the Packers beat the Steelers, you may have noticed that Pepsi commercials were absent from the ads that were vying for the attention of millions of viewers. Instead, Pepsi announced Pepsi Refresh, a project to take the $20 million dollars it would have spent on Superbowl advertising and give it to a good cause. They used a vast social media campaign to involve the public in voting for which cause would get the money.

Pepsi’s good deed did put $20 million dollars into the hands of organizations working to solve global problems, but Pepsi got something back too — loyal consumers. The campaign was a splashy example of a new strategy called “cause marketing” that plays off a growing trend of corporate social responsibility. But this money comes directly out of Pepsi’s brand marketing budget, not their philanthropy arm.

“There are some really revealing statements in the industry literature from executives at Pepsi saying very explicitly what they were trying to do,” explained Lori Dorfman, Director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group. “And one of the things they were trying to do is get the attention of and favorability of millennials,” she added.

Dorfman and her colleagues have been digging into the nitty-gritty of the beverage industry to draw comparisons between the marketing strategies of big tobacco and those of soda companies, who have recently come under attack for the role their sugary product is playing in rising obesity rates.

Continue reading

Richmond Voters Will Decide on “Soda Tax”

(Rex Sorgatz: Flickr)

(Rex Sorgatz: Flickr)

The people of Richmond will decide in November whether businesses should have to pay a fee for every ounce of sugar-sweetened drinks they sell. In other words, a soda tax is on the ballot November 6th. If voters approve the measure, Richmond would be the first city in California to impose such a fee.

“The city of Richmond has the opportunity to make history,” Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy told me today, adding that the campaign will be closely watched nationally. “Cities and states will be watching this across the country. … They too want to put a small tax on sugary drinks and use those funds to mitigate the harmful effects that all these sugary drinks are causing.”

Debate stretched more than four hours at last night’s City Council meeting to determine whether to put two related measures on the ballot. In addition to the penny-per-ounce business license fee, a second measure asks voters if they wish the money to be directed to obesity prevention programs. The measure is an advisory one. If voters approve the new fee, the money it generates goes into the general fund. Richmond’s finance director estimates the fee will generate from $4 million to $8 million for city coffers. Continue reading

The Greatest Health Risk to Children? No, It’s Not Drugs

(Ian Britton: Flickr)

People polled cited unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyle as greatest threat to children's health. (Ian Britton: Flickr)

Nearly half of people surveyed in a poll released today say an unhealthy diet combined with lack of physical activity are the greatest health risks facing California children today.

In addition, almost three in four respondents to the Field Poll — 73 percent — said prevention efforts, while starting with the family, must extend to the broader community, including health care providers, schools, community organizations and beyond — to food and beverage companies and fast food restaurants.

“Voters acknowledge they have a role to play,” Mark DeCamillo, Director of The Field Poll told me. “They should be involving the larger community and lots of different entities, companies included should be taking some responsibility in reducing obesity in kids.

The poll surveyed 1,000 registered California voters and was funded by The California Endowment. (The California Endowment is a supporter of KQED). Respondents across political parties, ethnic backgrounds and household incomes all agreed a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle are the major health risks to children. Illegal drug use was a distant second at 22 percent.

More than half of respondents (60 percent) said that the neighborhood where a child is raised makes a difference in their health. A strong majority (68 percent) said a comprehensive program to prevent childhood obesity — including building parks and promoting neighborhood safety — would be worth it, even if it cost billions of dollars.

“Californians understand that health happens in schools, in neighborhoods, and with prevention,” said Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, said in a statement. “Regardless of age, ethnicity, income or political ideology, they recognize that investments in prevention save money over the long run.”

Support for “soda tax” Continue reading