Voters around the country OK soda taxes to tackle obesity

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Andy.Schultz Soda via photopin (license)

Photo: Andy.Schultz Soda via photopin (license)

Soda taxes, it seems, are gaining some pop.

Voters in several U.S. cities in California and Colorado overwhelmingly approved additional pennies-on-the-ounce taxes in the Nov. 8 election in a move to help combat the nation’s ongoing obesity crisis and generate health funding. The Chicago area also narrowly passed soda taxes in a separate vote.

The measures follow a similar move by Philadelphia earlier this year as public health advocates, policy makers and others turn to such levies to raise funds for health initiatives as well as to try and reduce consumption and calories. Better oral health is also a concern.

California voters in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany – an area of about 1.5 million people – all approved once-cent-per ounce hikes, the Wall Street journal reported in the wake of Tuesday’s election. In Boulder, Colo., voters backed a two-cent levy, the WSJ said.

Days later, Illinois’ Cook County Board, which oversees the nation’s second-most populous county with 5.2 million people, passed a one-cent hike in a 9-8 vote on Nov. 10, according to NBC’s Chicago affiliate.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, in a statement, said the additional funds would “allow us to avoid damaging cuts in the funding for public health and public safety,” NBC Chicago reported.

Drink makers spent heavily to fix the proposals, spending at least $30 million in California, the WSJ reported, while proponents, with help from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, spent around $20 million.

“The taxes pose a rising threat to beverage industry giants like Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. after they spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years successfully opposing them in dozens of cities and states,” Journal reporter Mike Esterl wrote, adding that the industry has already sued Philadelphia over the hikes.

Even without such taxes, consumption of sugary drinks has declined in recent years as consumers turn to other options, according to Esterl, who covers the beverage industry for the Journal. The industry has responded to people’s health concerns and changing tastes by boosting their offerings of low- and no-calorie drinks as well as reducing package sizes, he wrote.

“The Food and Drug Administration recommends that Americans limit their daily intake of added sugars to about 12 teaspoons or 200 calories — less than in a 20-ounce bottle of regular Coke or Pepsi,” Esterl said.

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