One of the most progressive and health-conscious states in America, California has passed a long-term ban on taxing sugary soda drinks that could remain in place until 2031. The ban was signed by the Democratic Governor, Jerry Brown. But why?
Analysis: California, home of the first soda tax, agrees to ban them https://t.co/2lB2Tfcyrk
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 30, 2018
The soda industry seems to have followed the example of the tobacco industry, raising millions to counter messaging that sugar in sodas can cause serious health problems and obesity for millions of people. But more than that, in California, the soda giants went “nuclear,” threatening with a ballot measure that would make it extremely difficult to raise local taxes and fees for anything at all. Any new taxes or fees would require a two-thirds supermajority vote from city councils and county boards, not a simple majority.
If the ban on soda taxes was signed, the industry would withdraw the ballot measure that could cripple the means to raise tax revenues across the state.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-CA):
“This industry is aiming a nuclear weapon at government in California and saying, ‘If you don’t do what we want we are going to pull the trigger and you are not going to be able to fund basic government services,’” said Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, a city with an existing soda tax, according to the local KCBS outlet. Wiener was one of the few lawmakers to vote against the bill banning soda taxes.
Although the soda industry claimed a victory, using coercion, that victory may be short-lived.
Now public health advocates are working to remove the ban in just two years, encouraging voters to pass a statewide tax on soda. The California Medical Association and the California Dental Association have introduced the measure that would increase taxes by 2-cents-per-fluid-ounce on sugary sodas. They also have a clear plan of what to do with the estimated $1.7 billion annual revenues already: “health programs that address the overconsumption of added sugar and the health problems it causes.”
After the soda industry won a legislative ban on soda taxes in California, major healthcare groups have announced they will pursue a statewide soda tax initiative on the 2020 ballot https://t.co/Wu8dYVqtV2 pic.twitter.com/GvFJonA0V6
— LA Times CA Politics (@LATpoliticsCA) July 2, 2018
Meanwhile, the beverage industry is at work across the country to wipe out soda taxes, following the lead of the tobacco industry. If health advocates want to win, they will be outspent by millions of dollars in industry messaging and will need to be strategic, spelling out for voters exactly what will be done with the “blank check” of tax revenues raised.
One strategy the tobacco industry has used is to shift the argument from “smoking is bad for you” to a more nuanced discussion of how the taxes raised are spent.
Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, reflected on how taxes were increased on tobacco in California, thanks to a clear message that taxes would be used to fund Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for low-income people.
“The situations where the health groups are organized, have a carefully crafted message, and do have a moderate amount of money they can spend have been successful,” said Siegel.
These backstories on the soda and tobacco industries are just more blatant examples of how corporations and special interests can use their collective power to coerce the government to their will, even when it comes at a cost to the public health.
See how much sugar is in a can of soda below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube