Earlier this year, representatives in the California Assembly proposed a bill that would have imposed a two cent per ounce tax on beverages with added sugar.
According to Patrick McGreevy with the L.A. Times, the $2 billion that the tax would generate would go to fund counties, cities and private organizations that were seeking to improve public health through obesity prevention, diabetes prevention, safe water programs and oral health initiatives.
Richard Bloom, one of the co-sponsors of the bill said, “We hope to create a fund that would be used to improve health outcomes, particularly for children afflicted with obesity and diabetes. Right now there’s very little funding available to address the epidemic of obesity.”
According to a database of California legislation, that bill is currently stalled in the California Assembly pending a committee hearing. However, three cities in California held a referendum on Nov. 9, 2016 in which voters approved a 1-cent per ounce tax on drinks with added sugar, per Alison Aubrey of NPR.
San Francisco passed the measure with 62 percent of the vote, Oakland with 61 percent of the vote and Albany with 71 percent of voters supporting the tax according to Rong-Gong Lin II of the L.A. times.
These measures come on the heels of a study that showed that after the city of Berkeley imposed a similar tax on surgery drinks, consumption was decreased by 21 percent when compared to the pre-tax days.
The American Beverage Association, which represents the largest soda manufacturers in the country, opposed the bills in the California cities. Susan Neely, CEO of the American Beverage Association says taxes are not the most effective path at handling the obesity and diabetes epidemic that faces America, “Consumers don’t want these taxes … and we think there’s a more effective way to go about it,” Neely says.
This soda tax may bring back memories of New York City’s attempt to ban over-sized sugary drinks. The New York City ban included all surgery drinks over the size of 16 oz. The ban was eventually overturned by the New York Supreme Court, which said that the city had overreached in its attempt to affect the lives of millions of people.
I see a stark contrast between the California measures and the overturned ban in New York City. In California these measures were approved by the people, whereas in New York City, it was a decision by the city’s Board of Health, which is not representative of the people.
In addition, the California laws impose a tax on drinks with added sugar. Taxes are a part of the regulatory abilities that a city may enact to effect commerce. Banning a substance because it has a negative effect on one person’s health has never been in the jurisdiction of city governments.
I believe that people are personally responsible for the choices that they make. If they want that 20-oz. soda, then that is their decision and the government (at any level) should not be able to tell them that they cannot have it.
But I do believe that governments have the power to say, if you want to partake in that soda, then there is an extra fee with it. It is no different than taxes on alcohol and tobacco, which are also linked to negative health outcomes.