Soda taxes pass in four U.S. cities

Taxes on “sugary” beverages were approved by voters San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., in voting on Nov. 8 with all precincts reporting, according to several press reports.

Taxes of 1c per oz on “sugary” beverages were approved by more than 60% of voters in San Francisco and Oakland and more than 70% in Albany, according to unofficial tallies. A 2c-per-oz beverage tax received about 55% approval in Boulder. The ballot issues needed only a simple majority to pass because they did not specify how the tax revenue would be used. The taxes generally are levied on beverage distributors but are expected to be passed on to consumers. Berkeley, Calif., approved a beverage tax in 2014.

Millions of dollars were spent on advertising and other efforts by both sides of the issue leading up to the votes. The American Beverage Association (A.B.A.), individual beverage producers in some cases and other opponents criticized tax efforts that singled out caloric sweetened drinks for taxes, called them regressive and said it had not been proven that such taxes actually led to reduced consumption of sugary drinks.

“We respect the decision of voters in these cities,” the A.B.A. said. “Our energy remains squarely focused on reducing the sugar consumed from beverages — engaging with prominent public health and community organizations to change behavior. We’re driving this change across America, including communities with the highest rates of obesity. It’s the hard work necessary for true and lasting change.”

Proponents of the taxes cheered the votes as a way to combat obesity, diabetes and other diseases they claim are in part the result of consuming too many caloric sweetened beverages.

Soda taxes had been defeated about 40 times in recent years, but have gained some traction since the Berkeley vote in 2014. The Philadelphia City Council approved a tax on both caloric and diet beverages this year that would take effect in 2017, although that tax has been challenged in court. New soda tax efforts are under way in Cook County, Ill., and some other areas, as well as in several countries around the world.