In a setback for the soda industry’s battle with anti-sugar health advocacy groups, so-called “soda tax” measures on the ballot in three northern California cities won approval from voters on Tuesday, along with a similar proposal in Boulder, Colo.
Proposition V in San Francisco, which calls for a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages charged to distributors, passed by 62 percent to 38 percent. The plan calls for tax revenues to be placed in the city’s general fund, along with the formation of a 16-member advisory panel that will provide recommendations for creating and/or funding programs aimed at reducing the city’s sugar consumption.
In 2014, a different version of the proposal failed to earn the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, required because it contained specific instructions on how funds would be spent on nutrition and physical education programs. Without those, Proposition V only required a simple majority.
Measure HH, Oakland’s version of the same proposal, passed by an identical margin, while in the nearby city of Albany, 71 percent of voters backed Measure 01, which also called for a penny-per-ounce levy.
Outside of the state, voters in Boulder, Colo. passed a two-cents-per-ounce excise tax on distributors of beverages with at least 5 grams of added sugar per 12 ounces. Milk products, 100 percent juices, and alcoholic and medical beverages are exempt.
The results come after massive spending on both sides of the issue. According to Maplight.org, the beverage industry has raised in excess of $31 million to defeat the measures in San Francisco, Oakland, Albany and Boulder, compared to more than $23 million from those in favor. Besides Oakland, opponents of the referendums out-raised their counterparts in all of those cities, with anti-tax campaigners in San Francisco bringing in over $22 million, more than double spent to defeat the 2014 proposal and a new city record for spending on a single ballot question.
Supporters of the measure in San Francisco raised around $12 million, with more than half coming from former New York City Mayor and noted anti-sugar advocate Michael Bloomberg.
In a statement responding to the approval of Tuesday’s referendums, the American Beverage Association, who’s membership includes soda giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi, said, “We respect the decision of voters in these cities. Our energy remains squarely focused on reducing the sugar consumed from beverages – engaging with prominent public health and community organizations to change behavior. We’re driving this change across America, including communities with the highest rates of obesity. It’s the hard work necessary for true and lasting change.”
The battle over sugar, which has pit the $100 billion soft drink industry against local government officials and health organizations, is increasingly being fought at the ballot box.
After proposals were defeated in more than 30 cities and states, most notably New York City, Berkeley, Calif. became the first city in the country to levy a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in 2014. The city has accrued more than $2 million in revenue from the tax thus far and has directed funds towards community health groups, nutritional programs for public schools and program administration. Separate studies since its implementation have shown the measure has not led to a price increase in non-beverage products, and that city residents are buying less sugar-sweetened drinks overall.
In June, Philadelphia became the second, placing a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, despite a multi-million dollar campaign by major beverage producers to defeat it.
In October, the World Health Organization issued support for governments seeking to implement levies on sugar-sweetened drinks. Meanwhile, the two largest soft drink manufacturers, Coke and Pepsi, have both discussed ways to cut sugar in their overall product mix.