In efforts to fight obesity, Richmond and El Monte are hoping to get taxes placed on sugary beverages. First New York, now California. It’s only a matter of time until the other states follow suite. What are your thoughts? Read more below.
In November, voters in cash-strapped Richmond and El Monte will decide whether to pass penny-per-ounce taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks to bolster municipal coffers and fight obesity.
Approval could open the floodgates to similar taxes around the country. Calls to tax sugary drinks have gathered steam as more cities and states struggle to close budget gaps and American waistlines continue to expand.
A few decades ago, cigarette taxes in several small California cities paved the way for what are now significant taxes on tobacco products — and the soda industry does not want to suffer the same fate.
“The first few victories make an enormous difference,” said Kelly Brownell, a soda tax proponent and director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
The American Beverage Association — which represents PepsiCo Inc, Coca-Cola Inc, Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc and other beverage companies — has spent millions of dollars to beat back soda taxes around the country.
Jeff Ritterman, the Richmond city council member who championed the tax, expects a “tsunami” of spending from the beverage industry after its focus shifts from this month’s vote on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to ban large-sized sugary drinks at restaurants and other food outlets.
The ABA has said taxes on soda would hurt poor people and local businesses, while unfairly targeting one product. They also challenge the link between soft drinks and obesity, saying obesity rates have risen even as U.S. consumption of full-calorie sodas has declined.
TSUNAMI OF SPENDING
Americans on average drink 44.6 gallons of soft drinks each year, down from a peak of 54 gallons in 1998, according to Beverage Digest. Diet drinks, water and teas now account for a bigger portion of sales, fueled by consumers’ health concerns.
A Tufts University review of studies published over 17 years found that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was the most consistent dietary factor associated with weight gain.
Richmond and El Monte have the dubious distinctions of having some of California’s highest proportions of obese and overweight children, with rates above 50 percent.
Richmond, which has more crime and is poorer than many of its San Francisco Bay Area neighbors, was first to propose the tax. El Monte, a relatively low-income and mostly Hispanic suburb of Los Angeles, quickly followed.
Supporters of the soda tax range from medical groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics to actor Danny Glover, star of the “Lethal Weapon” movies.
The two main groups supporting the Richmond tax have raised $32,060 as of the end of June, according to campaign filings.