(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener says he will propose a 2 cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. If the board passes his proposal, San Francisco voters will see it on the ballot next November.

This tax is double the amount proposed last year in elections in the California cities of Richmond and El Monte. Those were a penny-per-ounce each and both were defeated by voters.

In addition to the amount of the tax, there’s another major difference between Wiener’s proposal and the two that failed. In Wiener’s plan, revenues generated by the tax — an estimated $31 million per year — would be earmarked for children’s recreation and nutrition programs. In Richmond and El Monte, revenues would have gone to the general fund. Voters were skeptical that soda tax revenues would ever really fund children’s health programs, despite city council resolutions that they would.

Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said he thinks the plan has “a very good chance” before San Francisco voters, specifically because of the earmarked funds.

Goldstein believes that as San Franciscans learn more about “how harmful these products are to our children and teens” and as they learn about the types of programs that could be created with the dedicated funding, San Franciscans will “turn in support” of the tax. Indeed, a Field Poll in February found that 68 percent of Californians said they would support a soda tax if revenues supported children’s health and recreation programs.

He pointed to the urgent need to curb consumption of sugary beverages among teenagers. A study from his organization released earlier this month showed that San Francisco teens are drinking at least one soda or sugar-sweetened beverage every day “while there is overwhelming evidence that all of this sugar leads directly to obesity and diabetes,” he said.

As State of Health reported in early 2012, an analysis from researchers at UC San Francisco found that a penny-per-ounce tax could cut consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by a modest, but still important,15 percent. Wiener’s office is citing that study to support the role of taxes in reducing consumption. As we noted at the time:

The [researchers] say that modest reduction will lead to modest weight loss, which in turn leads to modest reductions in diabetes. After the researchers crunched all the numbers, all those modest reductions would, over ten years, result in 26,000 lives saves (or avoiding “premature deaths” as researchers prefer to say).

There would also be 95,000 fewer instances of heart disease and 8,000 fewer strokes.

To arguments that taxes of this type are regressive, hitting poor people hardest, Goldstein had a sharp retort: “What we absolutely know is regressive are obesity and diabetes.” There are 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 20 ounce soda, Goldstein observed. “Our pancreas and our livers are not designed to be able to handle that much sugar.”

Goldstein is so sold on Wiener’s plan that he declared this “may very well prove to be the most effective obesity and diabetes prevention effort in the country.”

Not everyone agrees. As KQED’s NewsFix reported Tuesday afternoon, Californians For Food and Beverage Choice, an anti-soda tax group, called measures like Wiener’s “unncecesary, wasteful distractions from serious policymaking. Providing people with education, opportunities for physical activity and diverse beverage choices to fit their lifestyles are proven strategies for maintaining health.”

This post has been updated: It was Richmond’s City Council and not board of supervisors) that passed a resolution to dedicate soda tax funds to children’s health and recreation programs. We have also added perspective from Californians for Food and Beverage Choice.

Is San Francisco Primed to Approve a Soda Tax? 29 September,2016Lisa Aliferis

  • This is how liberals lose elections and set back all progressive efforts across the nation – by banning happy meals, water bottles and plastic bags. This is also a tactic used by conservative action groups to make liberals look ridiculous. They either get into these organizations and encourage them to propose the most extreme things possible, or they simply allow the most extreme liberal ideas to sail through committee so that it soon becomes yet another thing to distract the public. Either way, liberals lose. So, for all those state and city politicians who either by ignorance or intent or proposing yet another ridiculous overreach and inappropriately timed effort to tax people, you are only giving votes to the same neo-cons who just weeks ago threatend the full faith and credit of the United States. To whoever is supporting these measures, I would suggest, why not, say, perhaps, for just a year or two, or until *after* any major state or national election, DON’T propose crap like this. But if you simply must do it, put the idea forth as a proposition on which the public may decide themselves, rather than just using the bureaucracy of government to add more burden to people who are struggling to most. I consider myself a progressive and support efforts to promote the general welfare and protect our planet. But taxing soda and banning water bottles is going too far. Laws and regulation from ANY extreme end of the political scale should be avoided. This is one of those instances where moderates need to step up, contact their reps and get this kind of overreach off the table.

    • MaureenABA

      Agreed that politicians should focus on what
      matters most – education, safety and jobs – and leave the grocery shopping to
      consumers. People are perfectly capable of making these individual choices, and
      you’re right that the last thing hard-working citizens need is another tax to
      contend with. And it’s true that this type of tax hits people who are
      struggling the most to make ends meet, and is therefore regressive.

      measures to the tax being talked about in San Francisco were voted down in El
      Monte and Richmond, as well as defeated in the State Senate. Given the fact
      that this beverage tax proposal, only stands to hurt consumers and businesses,
      and won’t make a bit of difference when it comes to combating obesity, this
      attempted tax should fail too. – Maureen at the American Beverage Association


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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