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Proponents of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages are taking another swing at curbing their consumption in San Francisco this November.
The tax, dubbed the “soda tax” by supporters, is meant to slow the unhealthy consumption of sugary beverages. It’s also controversially labeled a “grocery tax” by opponents, a label some said is misleading and has come under fire at the San Francisco Ethics Commission.
“The reality is this is a classic David and Goliath [battle],” said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who placed the measure on the ballot. “We’re going after a major multinational industry that will disrupt the way they’ll do business for years.”
The American Beverage Association — made up of Pepsico and the Coca-Cola Company, among others — drowned the original 2014 sugary beverage tax in a $10 million opposition campaign.
That first proposed tax directed funds from the 2 cent soda tax into specific health and wellness programs, which required it by law to attain a two-thirds vote to pass.
While the measure failed, it still garnered 55 percent of the vote. That’s more than the new measure would need to pass, which only raises the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages by 1 cent and does not specifically direct funds. The tax is levied at distributors, not stores themselves.
Joe Arellano, a public relations consultant working for the American Beverage Association, called the tax a “grocery tax,” which the association has alleged in mailers across The City.
“Local grocery stores are the ones” who the tax is passed onto, he said.
Supervisor Jane Kim, however, also opposed the tax, telling the
San Francisco Examiner, “I would rather subsidize healthy food than tax soda.” She pointed to her efforts in the Tenderloin neighborhood to subsidize the sale of healthy food in liquor stores.
She called the soda tax a “regressive tax” that disproportionately hurts low income households.
Cohen countered that the health risks associated with drinking soda disproportionately affect low-income residents.
“These diseases that affect people are also regressive,” Cohen said. “We’re talking about type II diabetes, heart disease. These are diseases people don’t have to die from.”
Responding to concerns about grocers and low-income neighborhoods being taxed, Cohen said, “The American Beverage Association has never given a damn about poor people.”
A similar measure in Berkeley passed in 2014. Researchers from UC Berkeley found that after the tax was passed, consumption of soda in Berkeley was reduced in low-income populations by more than 20 percent.
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