More US Cities Go Sour on Sugary Drinks

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17 Nov 2016 --- The number of US cities experimenting with a tax on sugary drinks is growing after three states in California and one in Colorado have voted to pass a levy as part of a public health drive and growing anti-sugary soda movement. Legislating for a sugar tax continues to resonate around the world as Albany, Boulder, Oakland and San Francisco are the latest areas to support a tax. 

Boulder recently voted to approve ballot measure 2H and impose a two-cent per ounce excise tax on distributors of soda and other unhealthy sugary drinks, says Healthy Boulder Kids, a volunteer, citizen-led coalition focused on funding health programs to improve nutrition and physical activity in the city. 

Beginning on July 1, 2017, the city tax will be applied to drinks that contain at least five grams of added sweeteners (such as sugar and high fructose corn syrup) per 12 fluid ounces. It does not include milk products, baby formula, drinks taken for medical reasons or alcohol.

“We have won a major victory for the health of our community and all our children,” says Angelique Espinoza, campaign manager of Healthy Boulder Kids. “Big Soda pulled out all the stops in its effort to prevent the tax from being passed, but Boulder stood up for our kids. We understand the health threats posed by unhealthy sugary drinks, especially on low-income families. Boulder took an important, proactive step toward ensuring that all of us, our children in particular, have every opportunity to make better choices and to lead healthy lives.”

The tax is expected to generate up to US$3.8 million in the first year with revenues going to help fund programs and organizations that provide better access to healthy foods and activities as well as education about nutrition and exercise. This is especially important for the low-income families disproportionately affected by health conditions caused by sugary drinks, according to the grassroots campaigners. 

Boulder is hoping to simulate successful results in Berkeley, California which passed a similar measure in 2014 that has thus far led to a 21 percent drop in soda consumption and a 63 percent jump in water consumption. 

San Francisco (Proposition V won 62 to 38 percent), also took a stand against sugary soda last week by voting to implement taxes on sugary drinks at a rate of one cent per ounce, while similar measures put forward in the Albany ballot were supported by 71 percent. 

According to sugar tax campaigners in Oakland Measure H focuses on the distribution of sugary drinks that are high-sugar and low-nutrition, including soda, energy and sports drinks, sweetened iced teas and lemonades, juices with added sugar and syrups that go into sugary drinks. 

Executive director of Healthy Food America, Jim Krieger has described the recent votes as an historic turning point in the effort to bring sugar back to healthy levels and “an astonishing repudiation of Big Soda.”

Meanwhile the global soft drinks industry continues to go through extensive reformulations to increase low and no-sugar options as well as downsizing by offering smaller portion sizes, while the American Beverage Association has an initiative to cut calories from beverages consumed per person by 20 percent by 2025.

Reacting to the US city votes, a statement from ABA says: “We respect the decision of voters in these cities. 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.”

Earlier this year, the ABA’s vice president William Dermody spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst extensively about sugar taxes around the world and how his association believes levies are not the answer to address public health issues like obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

He pointed towards findings from the earlier adopters of sugar tax like Mexico where, despite an initial drop in sugary drinks sales, there has been no significant impact on health or significant decrease in overall calorie intake or evidence of a long-term decrease in purchases. 

In September he ABA also filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the soda tax in Philadelphia. The trade association that represents Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper, amongst other soft drink giants, has joined with business owners and residents to try to prevent the tax from coming into force next January. Philadelphia leaders voted earlier this year to expand early childhood educational access and to provide additional funding for parks and recreation. The plan was to fund this through a 1.5 cents per ounce soda tax due to take effect in January 2017. 

by Gaynor Selby

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