Supervisors Eric Mar

Second San Francisco pol takes aim at sugary beverages with tax proposal

There appears to be a strong will at City Hall to take on the beverage industry over sugar-laden soft drinks and their deleterious health effects – so strong in fact that two San Francisco politicians are now squaring off over the issue.

A day after Supervisor Scott Wiener announced plans to levy a two-cent per ounce tax on soft drinks, Supervisor Eric Mar – author of The City's notorious restriction on toys in fast-food kids meals – unveiled his own proposal.

The second measure means there will be two political brouhahas in San Francisco: one at the ballot box in 2014 and one in City Hall over which measure gets to advance to the showdown with a beverage industry that spent heavily last year to defeat similar efforts in the cities of Richmond and El Monte.

The two proposed taxes are alike in that they both would impose the same two-cent per ounce levy on soda distributors, require two-thirds voter approval, and funnel revenue to nutrition and exercise efforts.

The tax would apply to any drink with added sugar – including drinks with fruit juice concentrates and high-fructose corn syrup – that has more than 25 calories per 12 ounce serving.

Consumption of such drinks has been linked to obesity and diabetes by health officials who say that just one 12 ounce can of soda has more sugar than an adult should consume in a day.

Both politicians agree that soda is hazardous to children's health, but Wiener and Mar differ on where the tax revenue would go.

Wiener's plan divvies the cash – up to $31 million annually, he estimated – between the Recreation and Park Department, the Department of Public Health and the San Francisco Unified School District.

Mar's also divides funds into threes, between health education efforts in The City's poorer neighborhoods, physical education and exercise initiatives, and a push for healthy food access in poorer neighborhoods and in schools.

In other words, they're very similar, Wiener said.

“We both have the same goals, just slightly different visions,” he said, adding that eventually only one measure will advance past the board and onto the ballot.

Both supervisors said they have been toying with the idea of a soda tax for some time.

In September, Mar asked the board's legislative analyst to figure out exactly how much a toll sugar-sweetened drink consumption takes on The City's health care system. The report is pending.

A measure needs approval from a majority of the Board of Supervisors to make the ballot.

There are two ballots next year on which a measure could appear: the June primary or the November general election.

If a measure makes it to voters and is approved, San Francisco would be the first city in the U.S. to successfully tax soda sales.

A ban on sales of soft drinks 16 ounces or larger pushed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was rejected by the courts shortly before it was to take effect.

And industry representative the American Beverage Association poured $2.6 million into defeating Richmond's plan to place a one-cent per ounce tax on soft drinks last year.

“It will be a food fight, but we'll win,” Mar said.

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