Opinion

We’ve seen some cynical moves to protect profits, but this soda tax ban is a new low

A pending deal in California would ban soda taxes through 2030 if the beverage industry drops an initiative that would make all local taxes harder to pass. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
A pending deal in California would ban soda taxes through 2030 if the beverage industry drops an initiative that would make all local taxes harder to pass. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/TNS) TNS

As the CEO of the American Heart Association, I’ve seen my fair share of industry efforts to oppose health initiatives and protect their profits.

California Senate Bill 872 is one of the worst.

The bill would prevent Californians and their local elected officials from enacting measures they feel are necessary to protect the health of their communities and allow public investments in critical local programs.

This bill – introduced at the eleventh hour, written by the beverage industry and its allies – would be a significant blow to this state’s health and economic vitality. It would expose the beverage industry’s false claims that they care about local communities; the truth is, they think nothing of stripping away the right of those communities to decide for themselves how to best address local health concerns.

Since 2014, residents of four California cities have voted to enact sugary drink taxes, and with good reason. Sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet. People who consume a greater percentage of their calories from added sugars are at a significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease. Nearly two-thirds of children drink at least one sugary drink every day, putting them at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, hypertension, and tooth decay.

Research has affirmed those choices. A recent evaluation showed that sales of taxed sugary drinks in Berkeley dropped by 9.6 percent in the first year of the tax while sales of bottled water increased by 15.5 percent. The tax has strengthened the local economy as well – 18 months after passage, food sector sales tax revenue in Berkeley rose by 15 percent, while food sector jobs increased by 7.2 percent.

The revenue from these taxes is also being put to good use. In Berkeley, where a local citizens commission helps ensure the money is spent as intended, more than $2.5 million in tax revenue has funded a variety of nutrition programs. San Francisco and Oakland have begun directing millions of dollars of revenue from their taxes to health improvement initiatives in schools and communities.

We will continue to stand with communities that put the health of their residents first, no matter how much the beverage industry and their special interest allies spend to oppose progress. Industry spent $866 million in 2013 alone to market sugary drinks as fun and healthy, especially – and most perniciously – to kids and teenagers at higher risk for developing chronic disease.

Despite these marketing tactics, the percentage of kids consuming at least one sugary drink per day dropped from 79.7 percent in 2003-04 to 60.7 percent in 2013-14. It is no accident that this decline happened as the negative health effects of these drinks became better known.

SB 872 is a desperate, cynical and undemocratic attempt by the beverage industry to continue pushing incredibly unhealthy products on kids and families. We urge California state legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown to stand up to the beverage industry and reject this bill.

Nancy Brown is CEO of the American Heart Assn. Reach her at Nancy.Brown@heart.org.

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