On Tuesday, voters in Berkeley, Calif. overwhelmingly passed Measure D, the nation’s first tax on soda. A CNN report says the law was passed by a 75 percent margin, adding 1 cent per ounce to the cost of every soda in the city, or about 12 cents per can. Support for the measure seemed undeterred by a $2 million opposition campaign funded by the American Beverage Association, according to Berkeley vs. Big Soda, a major proponent of the bill.
The new tax does not cover all sweet beverages, but is relegated to drinks with added sugar and other high-calorie sweeteners, and exempts diet soda, baby formula and 100 percent fruit juice, according to local news station KQED. Some opponents have said that the measure does not go far enough and has too many loopholes and exemptions, such as chocolate milk, non-packaged coffee drinks and resale beverages from outside the city limits. There is also concern over where the money raised from the tax will end up.
According to NPR, the tax will raise an estimated $1 million per year and will be added to the general fund. It is not yet clear where the measure’s funds will go, though the creation of an advisory health panel is called for by the measure. More than 30 similar laws have been proposed across the nation, but were not passed due largely to the soda industry’s well-funded opposition, reports NPR.
San Francisco voters failed to support a similar measure on Tuesday with a 2-cent tax per ounce, called Proposition E. The soda tax in Berkeley required only a simple-majority vote, and passed with three-quarters of voters in support, while the San Francisco measure required a two-thirds vote and was supported by just over half of San Franciscans. Scott Weiner, a Proposition E co-author, called San Francisco’s support of the tax “extraordinary,” despite the loss.
Roger Salazar, representing the opposition campaigns in Berkeley and San Francisco, said the Berkeley win was not likely to have much effect on voters nationally, calling the city “eclectic.” Vicki Alexander, a Measure D proponent, disagrees, citing the many firsts passed in the city which later became national standards. Curbside recycling, policies on public school food and non-smoking sections in bars and restaurants are among the trends adopted first in Berkeley, says Alexander.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, one in three children and two in three adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. One of the obesity epidemic’s major contributors is a steadily increasing consumption of sugary drinks, says a Harvard obesity fact sheet. There can be as many as 700 calories in a single 64-ounce fountain cola, and over 240 calories in the average 20-ounce soda. Drinkers of high-calorie beverages often do not compensate for the caloric intake by eating less solid food.
Forty percent of children in the U.S. will suffer from diabetes in their lifetime, and the consumption of sugary drinks can be linked to diabetes, says Berkeley vs. Big Soda. Supporters of the tax included several big organizations, such as the American Heart Association, Latinos Unidos, Berkeley Federation of Teachers, American Academy of Pediatric-California and the YMCA, to name a few. For proponents who compared the fight to that of the tobacco industry before it—Berkeley’s decision to pass the soda tax means a major win.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa
Photo by: dcJohn – Flickr License