Richmond’s Measure N is a proposed one-cent-per-ounce tax on local businesses that sell sugar-sweetened drinks. Supporters say the tax will promote public health by providing millions of dollars for anti-obesity and recreation programs. But opponents argue that the measure would hurt local business, and say there’s no guarantee the money would be spent on anti-obesity programs. Should local governments tax soda?[View the story “Is a Soda Tax the Answer to the Obesity Problem? Listeners Weigh in on Richmond’s Measure N.” on Storify]

Is a Soda Tax the Answer to the Obesity Problem? Listeners Weigh in on Richmond’s Measure N.

On Oct. 19, KQED’s Forum discussed the issue of Richmond’s Measure N, which would place a one-cent-per-ounce tax on local businesses that sell sugar-sweetened drinks. The show was one of our most heated of this election. Here are some of the comments submitted via our website and on social media.

Storified by · Mon, Oct 22 2012 15:40:04

We started the conversation on Richmond’s soda tax by asking “Do you support a tax on sugary drinks or is there a better way to curb obesity? Below are some of the suggested alternatives to the tax. 
Self control….Anna-Maria Carrillo
Not everyone agreed that this was a viable solution:
Ya self control is a bullet proof solution. Would you put your kid in a room with a pedophile and leave his experience up to power of self control? A tax won’t curb obesity, but it will at least help pay for the consequences of itRich Wang
Talk of exercise, better parenting and fast-food surfaced:
Cities should be car free. I think automobiles have exacerbated the sedentary lifestyles of the last 50 years.Jon Rendell
Make portion sizes smaller in fast-food chainsKashmira Patel
@KQEDforum "Not there fault"?? Who’s putting the drink to mouth? Self discipline and parenting required.Carl E. Holland
During the show, debate between Richmond City Councilman Jeff Ritterman and Chuck Finnie, the spokesman for the Community Coalition Against the Beverage Tax, was heated.  As one listener observed:
The two people on KQED Forum right now sound like they’re about to throttle each otherCathy Edwards
Indeed. Things were tense. At one point a caller supporting Measure N said that the opposition was running a “campaign of lies.” Another caller criticized the measure as “hyper-regressive.” One listener dislikes the way both sides are running their campaigns:
My household must receive 2-3 calls per day from pollsters. It’s gotten to the point where we don’t want to answer our phone. Same questions, over and over. One thing about the soda tax — they say "did you know…" when "asking" an anti-N question but "ask" for an opinion for pro-N. Going for the soft peddle approach. My feelings? No one needs to drink soda. Sorry, but a Big Gulp isn’t fundamental to human nourishment.Holly Anderson
Some of listeners saw the measure as indicative of  the negative aspects of Bay Area politics; but most who weighed in on social media seemed to support the tax.
@KQEDForum Two people arguing about taxing infant formula is a great example of why bay area politics/proposal system are brokenOMWerner
It’s touching how much Big Soda cares about Richmond’s welfare #alligatortears Listening to @KQED’s Forum, rolling my eyes.sometimes just leah
The big soda rep keeps dodging questions and spouting party lines. Why can’t people see through that? Yes, the tax will get passed on to the poorest people, but how much money will they save by NOT buying soda? Svetlana Kagan Goldenberg
If the measure passes, it comes down to people making the decison between sugary drinks that is a little more expensive and water that is cheaper. If people choose to spend more money on sugary drinks then they suffer the financial and health consequences of their own stupidity. Justine Rose Armen
Dr Ritterman is courageous and he is looking at the important issue instead of some small inconveniences of the only plausible solution anyone has proposed. I have no involvement in this matter.Ron Gutman
To learn more about the measure, including discussion of where the money raised by it will go, click through the link below and listen to the show:
Measure N: Richmond Soda Tax | KQEDRichmond’s Measure N is a proposed one-cent-per-ounce tax on local businesses that sell sugar-sweetened drinks. Supporters say the tax wi…

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond city councilman, retired cardiologist and supporter of Measure N
Chuck Finnie, spokesman for the Community Coalition Against the Beverage Tax, a campaign against Measure N, and vice president of media and communications for Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter and Partners

  • Erik

    What is the price HISTORY of sodapop over the last 20 years? I remember Coke being relatively much more expensive in the 70s. Soda industry has massivly shifted consumption through price decrease.

  • margaret

    Sugary foods are allowed to be purchased with foodstamps. Should persons be able to buy these foods?

  • Anonymous

    The revenue will not go into the general funds but sales tax would be. The beauty of this tax is such that they will be collected separately so they can reinvested in Richmond. Specific obesity and nutrition initiatives could be funded and they could subsidize healthier alternatives.

    • dongosney

      I’m not sure that you have this correct. Any revenue generated by this tax will go into the General Fund where the Council can spend it in any way they choose. Right now several members of the Council and several who are running to be elected to Council have promised that they will only use the money to fight childhood obesity but if the City has a severe budget deficit and the Council has to decide whether to close the libraries, close the rec centers and cut back on the many services so many of our residents have come to rely on, then the Council may feel it’s more important to dip into those funds. Look back just 8 years ago when the City had a $35 million budget deficit and what I described was a fact of life here–and more–and ask yourself why you might think it can’t happen again.

  • Jordin

    I don’t see why soda is seen as so critical to daily life and crippling to Richmond citizens. Simple way to avoid this tax hike is to not drink so much soda or switch to diet. Problem solved.

  • I don’t live in the city of Richmond but I do shop at Costco and Food Co. I do not want to pay an extra tax for the City of Richmond, so I guess no more Food Co. or any other Richmond store.

    What a slimy little way to tax non-residents.

  • At first in this discussion, I was in favor of the tax. But after hearing more, I don’t understand how this measure will hold businesses accountable for applying the tax to sugary drinks. I imagine businesses make more money on soda than on apples, so what’s preventing them from maintaining low soda prices and spreading the tax to the healthy food from which they make significantly less profit?

    • dongosney

      The proposed methodology for determining how to charge for this tax seems flawed.

      For instance, you buy a Super Big Gulp which is 64 ounces. You fill the cup full of soda with no ice. You get charged 64¢ tax. You fill the cup full of ice and pour in about 8 ounces of sugary sweetened drink and you still get taxed 64¢.

      If you try to fill your SBG and it overflows, you’re still charged 64¢ but the seller is charged a tax on that soda that is going down the drain.

      If, as a small business owner working out of my house, have you over to discuss me doing business with you and I offer you a soda (in a glass full of ice), even though I already paid a tax on the can of soda when I purchased it, I’m then required to run down to City Hall and give them another 1¢ per ounce tax. And if I fail to do that I am subject to fines and a citation for violating the law.

      Costco, the largest seller of sodas in the area–with a client base of about 3/3 million customers from the Carquinez Bridge to the Bay Bridge–sells their sodas by the case at a nice low price. This tax would be a 46% tax on those sodas–on top of state sales tax and the CA redemption fee.

  • Ginbahr

    Dave I’m impressed in your moderation, keeping to the differences and the points of contention on this matter. Well done. My personal opinion on the matter, not being a resident of Richmond is this: I’m tired of business over personhood, I understand economic impact I’m struggling to pay my bills as well. I’m fortunate enough to be healthy because I cannot afford health insurance. There is a larger impact on families with medical conditions that do not have health insurance than on businesses that have to raise their prices a penny per ounce. People die that is most important. People cannot afford medical care and the taxpayers cannot afford to cover uninsured medical bills, and our community suffers more over this than the economy.

  • Edward

    The government shouldn’t be telling us what do eat or drink, period. That is our choice because last I checked this is a free country. If we start here, where do we stop? Will we no longer be able to eat birthday cake or ice cream? The government has more important things to do.

  • How long have Coke and Pepsi been around? 100+ years. How long has child obesity been a problem? 20 years? The problem is with parenting! Parents don’t know how to say no anymore to their. Taxing beverages will not solve the problem.

  • Lee12

    Why does business & economy according to mr finney trump children’s health? This will encourage business & customers to make healthier choices. So sick of the lobbyists for these unhealthy industries going to bat for the $$ that may be lost over the lives that will be negatively affected. Not to mention that there is an addictive component to sugary beverages that seems similar to the tobacco industry. How can consumers fight so many corporate giants working against them? Health insurance is not advocating prevention, big soda is clearly not advocating for kids–they are advocating for themselves & their bottom line.

  • Marzipans

    Tobacco, a drug, kills – we tax it. Sugar is also a drug, our bodies respond to it similarly to how our bodies respond to cocaine. This is a no-brainer!

  • James Ivey

    I don’t understand why the tax being regressive is an issue. This doesn’t appear to be a tax for generation of revenue but instead a tax to change behavior.

    In addition, I’d like to hear more about the amount of the tax and the health care expenses expected to be saved in the long term.

  • BKLmom

    Dave, I’d like to thank you for not pandering to
    your guest & not allowing lies to pass unchallenged. Outstanding job on the soda tax interview!

  • Juliet Sims

    Measure N is an important step in the right direction, and I commend Richmond for taking this important step. The beverage industry spends nearly $1 billion per year marketing sugary beverages to our kids in the U.S. I’m a nutritionist and a mom, and I can tell you that families across the state and country are working hard to safeguard their kids health. But when these companies have access to our kids in schools, stores, online, and on television — parents can’t do it all alone. Efforts like Richmond’s are critical to support families in protecting child health.

  • Rick

    How is adding a fee to sugary beverages any different than taxing tobacco products? Both are health hazards and the number of smokers has declined over the years.
    Rick in Oakland

  • Skeebo

    Ritternman says much of the tax would be collected by Costco, and that Richmond residents would not bear the cost. If the Costco shoppers from Berkeley or Albany would bear the cost of the tax, then any benefits of reduced consumption would accrue to Berkeley or Albany residents.

  • KevindeturanceK

    Points are being overlooked.

    In regards to the rich persons who purchase out of town, they are the ones who have the luxury of affording better food options.

    Regards of rich or poor the tax is just as it directly applies to the individual that makes the choice to indulge in the purchase of a a soda, Tabacco, lotto , etc.. You assume the responsiblity to assist the Genral group of users that need assistance.

    Forget the deturance factor of the tax, the money may go towards assisting children to learn healthy habits and exercise.

  • Lili

    I work in Richmond kids K-12 and I think measure N is very short-sighted. The obesity problem is caused not only on soda, but on living in neighborhoods that are riddled with community violence, so it is not safe to ride bikes, or exercise in many of the neighborhoods. The classrooms are overcrowded and they can’t learn and it’s a depressing environment. Many families are struggling to put food on the table and provide shelter. Please don’t take away from this community. Instead put the focus on providing this city with more community centers, more affordable youth sports organizations, organic neighborhood/school gardens. And increased safety!

  • Ann Catherine Keirns

    Prohibition didn’t work to curb alcohol consumption at all. It just fostered the illegal activity to continue that addiction. You can’t prohibit something that is harmful but you can make it harder to fulfill — like taxes on cigarettes and sugary stuff. Go Richmond!

  • Joy

    Don’t we see that it’s a diet of healthy food and better health care that changes obesity? These are the things that are not as available to our lower economic societies as they are to our wealthier societies. Teaching children how to swim are not going to help mom and dad at home change the family diet!

  • Marzipans

    Please watch this:
    Sugar is a DRUG.

  • Ruth

    I’ve been undecided on the soda tax. But listening today, Dr. Ritterman makes a sincere and intelligent case to vote “yes”
    And given that he’s devoted 30 years to the health of Richmond families, he’s credible to me.With all due respect to Mr. Finnie, I can’t believe his clients at Pepsi and Coke really care about our low income families or our local businesses.I wish the big companies would keep their millions and let us decide this important issue within Richmond.

  • Ellis

    Richmond Measure “N” YES, YES, YES

    Large corporations are predators, and especially in Richmond
    California. Pick one any one like Chevron. These corporations have a
    fiduciary(legal) responsibility to maximize profits, not look after
    the health of mostly black and brown children.

    The Hearst Corporations SF Chronicle needs to butt out! Since when
    did they given a xxx about black and brown children anywhere?
    Richmond California is the poster child for environmental racism.

    The people of Richmond should vote yes on Measure “N.”

  • Tristy

    Coming from Europe, I am always impressed how US people fear that the government might take over their liberties. But what about corporations insidiously taking over your liberty by making you act for their profit ? I am not sure we are so free when we are victims of the consumer-habits syndrome.
    Regulating or taxing questionable products aren’t especially bad: we all know we have weaknesses and that businesses often like to make profit on the back of those weaknesses.
    Cheap junk food has always been very tempting and looks like the easy choice (especially for kids), as opposed to restricting yourself on bad beverage and drinking more water. So people need help – or call it dissuasive actions.
    So yes… it is not such a bad idea to tax Sodas in one way or another.

    • Slappy

      If it was about “protecting” the general population, then an outright ban would be immensely more appropriate.

      No, this is about the state making more money. So in the end, the population get screwed even worse than before.

  • Andrés Soto

    Bravo Jeff! Chuck Finnie told me he is the only one who can represent the No on N side because, “The supporters in Richmond don’t really understand the big picture, that’s why I have to do all of the interviews.” With such contempt for his supporters, imagine what he thinks of people in Richmond in general!

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    To bad it cannot be a five or ten cent per oz tax. Coke, Pepsi and other junk food makers care about profits more than they have ever cared about people. If they cared would they be pushing their products so much?

    And with cheap HFCS one need only see the surge in junk food drink sales to see this is akin to crack or cocaine to some of us.

  • Martha

    I cannot understand why people want to tax soda to pay for obesity programs. There is no experimental evidence supporting too much sugar as causing the obesity epidemic. Most of what people cite are observational studies that improperly conclude that something causes obesity, either by directly saying it (using the term “risk” incorrectly) or by suggesting that a person avoid X to lose weight. That last statement is most surely a non-sequitur for observational studies (non-controlled non-experimental survey studies).

    There is increasingly greater evidence, however, that environmental toxins, and especially pesticides, are closer to a CAUSE of obesity. See, and especially Tiwari 2011 (freely available at

  • EricWelch

    I don’t live in California so I have no dog in the fight, but I found the discussion quite interesting. It’s unclear to me what the purpose of the tax might be: to fund better exercise venues for children, punish those who sell sugar-laden drinks, or to suppress the drinking of soda, or to eliminate sugar in the diet (a worthy goal.) (Note that fruit juices like apple juice have lots of sugar in them and are equally high in calories as a can of Coke. The Energy drinks are loaded with them.) It’s also my understanding that it’s NOT a tax on soda but rather a tax on businesses that sell soda. Would a business that sold only diet drinks and fruit juice be taxable? How about ice cream parlors that sell no soda but have a product loaded with sugar? So it just seemed to me that the measure isn’t clear what the exact purpose is and therein lies its problem.

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