Soda: To Tax or Not to Tax

By Ryan Jaeger

Illustration by Anton Konevski
Illustration Credit: Anton Konevski

Water wasn’t the only liquid being legislated on the recent November ballot in California. In Berkeley, voters had the opportunity to alter the fate of America’s second favorite drink: soda. Measure D proposed a one-cent-per-ounce tax on most sugary drinks, amounting to a twelve-cent increase for a can of soda. The tax, which was also passed in a similar form in San Francisco, was designed to reduce the purchase of high-sugar beverages, as well as allot a portion of the revenue toward health research. Estimated to raise $1.5 million in revenue per year, the taxed funds will go toward Berkeley’s general fund, and a panel of community and nutrition experts will direct the City Council in ways to spend the revenue on children’s health programs and awareness. Experts have assessed that soda is one of the leading causes of obesity and diabetes in the United States, a problem that continues to escalate, especially among children. An estimated one third of all children born today will develop diabetes in their lifetime, and soda, with an average can containing ten teaspoons of sugar, is a prime culprit. The question for voters was whether a tax would help to solve these health dilemmas, and in Berkeley it appears that the majority believe that to be the case. In early polling, sixty-six percent of Berkeley residents were in favor of the tax, in spite of the $1.4 million dollars spent by beverage companies in an effort to defeat the measure. Recognizing that a victory over Measure D in Berkeley could lead to beverage taxation in other areas, The American Beverage Association, made up of companies such as Coco-Cola, Pepsi Cola, and Gatorade, set its sights on this particular tax, and outspent the opposition ten to one, but to no avail. As a largely young adult demographic, students at Berkeley City College will undoubtedly be affected by the passing of Measure D, and opinions range on whether it is a valid tax. Malique Banks, opposed to the measure, argues, “It’s up to the discretion of the public to ingest beverages that fall under the qualifications of being soda.” On the other side, Iman Abdella notes that “youth tend to buy drinks that are cheaper, and a tax on soda will prevent them from buying drinks that are bad for them.” There is no word on whether the tax would be applied to the price of drinks coming from the school’s vending machines. This is the first such measure proposed in Berkeley, though not the first attempt at curbing sugar intake for Americans nationwide. The most famous example is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban in New York City, which would have restricted the sale of soda over sixteen ounces, but failed to gain the vote of New Yorkers. On November 4th, Measure D passed in Berkeley, so we will see over the coming months how it will affect consumption and behavior.

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