by Marion Nestle

Search results: soda tax

Mar 26 2019

Pediatric Academy and Heart Association endorse soda taxes!

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have issued a joint statement endorsing soda taxes along with other policies aimed at reducing risks for childhood obesity (the full statement is published in Pediatrics).

The AAP and AHA recommend:

  • Local, state and national policymakers should consider raising the price of sugary drinks, such as via an excise tax, along with an accompanying educational campaign. Tax revenues should go in part toward reducing health and socioeconomic disparities.
  • Federal and state governments should support efforts to decrease sugary drink marketing to children and teens.
  • Healthy drinks such as water and milk should be the default beverages on children’s menus and in vending machines, and federal nutrition assistance programs should ensure access to healthy food and beverages and discourage consumption of sugary drinks.
  • Children, adolescents, and their families should have ready access to credible nutrition information, including on nutrition labels, restaurant menus, and advertisements.
  • Hospitals should serve as a model and establish policies to limit or discourage purchase of sugary drinks.

Comment:  This action of the AAP is truly remarkable.  In 2015, this Academy was heavily criticized for taking funding from Coca-Cola and, surely not coincidentally, saying little about the need for children to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.  Once exposed, the AAP said it could no longer accept that funding. I did, however, hear an alternative story.  Coca-Cola officials told me that as a result of their transparency initiative, the company would no longer fund the Pediatric, Dietetic, and Family Practice Academies.  It is also hardly a coincidence that now that the AAP no longer takes money from Coke, it is free to promote soda taxes as a useful public health strategy.

Jul 2 2018

Big Soda strong-arms California: no more soda taxes for 12 years. Shame!

In 2017, Jennifer Pomeranz and Mark Pertschuck published an article in the American Journal of Public Health titled State Preemption: A Significant and Quiet Threat to Public Health in the United States.

How right they were.

Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law banning new soda tax initiatives in the state until 2030, thereby preempting local initiatives planned and in progress.

How did this happen?

Raw, overt power politics (my emphasis throughout).  The Sacramento Bee shows how it’s done.

The Hill explains that this bill was a compromise.

The measure was a last-minute compromise to stop an initiative circulated by the beverage industry that would make it more difficult to raise state and local taxes in California.  “Mayors from countless cities have called to voice their alarm and to strongly support the compromise which this bill represents,” Brown wrote in a signing message.

Big Soda’s tactic: use California’s ballot initiative process to put forth a measure requiring a two-thirds majority to pass any new tax legislation.  Brown and those mayors must have assumed it would pass (anything to prevent new taxes).  Brown said he would agree to a 12-year moratorium on new soda taxes if the soda industry would withdraw the measure.  It did, and he signed.

In explaining the so-called “compromise” (in quotes because this was blackmail), US News quotes state senator Scott Wiener (Dem-San Francisco):

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.”

In other words, the beverage industry held the state hostage. Like the Sacramento Bee, I’d call this a shakedown.

The Sacramento Bee also called it extortion—a power play by the American Beverage Association that:

appears to be working as intended. As the deadline for signing the state budget approaches this week, a developing trailer bill attached to it would give Big Soda a 12-year ban on local soda taxes in exchange for dropping a ballot initiative that would threaten the finances of cities throughout California. Who says extortion doesn’t pay?

The New York Times explains the “stunning” preemption:

Now the beverage industry has a new approach. Instead of fighting the ordinances city by city, it is turning to states, trying to pass laws preventing any local governments from taxing their products.

The reactions have been fierce.

Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association says, “We’ve seen some cynical moves to protect profits, but this soda tax ban is a new low.”   The American Heart Association issued a statement:

The bill—a last-minute, backroom deal negotiated and written in secret by beverage industry lobbyists and their allies—is a significant step backwards in the ongoing effort to reduce overconsumption of sugary drinks.

“This is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have seen in more than 30 years spent fighting for better health for kids and families,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “We could not be more disappointed to see this bill, taken straight from the tobacco industry playbook, pass.”

The LA Times said “Shame on California lawmakers for caving in to the soda industry.”

Salon explains:

There’s a lot at stake for America’s biggest soda companies. Carbonated soft drinks – such as Coke, Fanta, Sprite, and Fresca – make up two-thirds of Coca-Cola’s production, and U.S. soda sales earned the company more than $10 billion in 2015. And PepsiCo’s soda sales – including Pepsi, 7Up, and Mountain Dew – still account for one-quarter of the company’s $38 billion in North American sales, despite a shift toward healthier products. But soda consumption fell to its lowest point in 31 years in the U.S. in 2016, according to Fortune, and Coca-Cola concedes that sweetened beverage taxes “are hurting Coke’s business.”

I’ll end with this quote from the New York Times:

Bill Monning, the Senate majority leader, was one of a handful of Democrats who voted against the bill. He called its passage “unprecedented” and said it would stop cities and counties “from being able to take steps to protect the health of their residents”…“It’s a sad day for democracy in California,” he said. “But ever the optimist I think that the outrage of Big Soda blackmailing the state legislature and the people of California is going to boomerang.”

Let’s make sure that happens.

And while we are at it, don’t let this happen in your state.  If the soda industry threatens to mess with state elections, tell your representatives and governor to resist.  California public health advocates: keep the pressure on.  Advocate for bans on sodas everywhere you can: schools, hospitals, workplaces, government offices.  Expose what the industry is doing to protect its profits at the expense of public health.  Don’t give up.  Courage!

For the record, here’s where to find out more about this shameful episode.

Jun 4 2018

US vetoes any mention of soda taxes in WHO committee report on preventing noncommunicable (chronic) disease

The AP reports that the reason the WHO committee on preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) did not recommend soda taxes is that the US representative vetoed the idea.

The Trump administration has torpedoed a plan to recommend higher taxes on sugary drinks, forcing a World Health Organization panel to back off the U.N. agency’s previous call for such taxes as a way to fight obesity, diabetes and other life-threatening conditions.

The move disappointed many public health experts but was enthusiastically welcomed by the International Food and Beverage Alliance — a group that represents companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo. and Unilever.

The WHO committee’s report appeared in The Lancet last week.  About soda taxes, it said:

The Commissioners represented rich and diverse views and perspectives. There was broad agreement in most areas, but some views were conflicting and could not be resolved. As such, some recommendations, such as reducing sugar consumption through effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages and the accountability of the private sector, could not be reflected in this report, despite broad support from many Commissioners.

It did not include soda taxes in its tax recommendation:

Implement fiscal measures, including raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and consider evidence-based fiscal measures for other unhealthy products.

This omission is striking in view of WHO’s strong previous positions on the need to reduce NCDs as part of the agency’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, and on reducing sugars and taxing sodas as a means to achieve those goals:

Again a US veto?  Recall the infamous incident in 2003 when the US blocked the agency from recommending a reduction in sugar intake.

The US should not be holding WHO hostage to public health measures.

WHO should not be caving in to US threats.

NCDs are the major cause of worldwide death and disability and we need worldwide efforts to prevent them.  This calls for cooperation, not blackmail.

Shame.

Apr 20 2017

Berkeley soda tax continues to produce benefits

Evaluation of the effect of the Berkeley soda tax continues.  The latest results, published in PLoS Medicine, say that one year after implementation of the tax,

Prices of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs) increased in many, but not all, settings

  • Sugary beverage sales declined by 9.6% in Berkeley stores
  • Untaxed beverages sales increased by 3.5% driven by bottled water (up 15.6%)
  • Average grocery bills did not increase
  • Store revenue did not fall more compared to control cities
  • Post-tax self-reported SSB intake did not change significantly compared to baseline

The evaluation was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies with support from the University of North Carolina’s Population Center and its National grant from the NIH.

The University sent out its own press release.

It also did a short video explaining what the tax is about and its effects.

Michael Jacobson of CSPI says

For Berkeley, Calif., to reduce soda sales by 10 percent—and to raise water sales by 16 percent—is a huge public-health victory.  It shows that the soda tax enacted in Berkeley is working as intended.  And rather than costing the city, the soda tax represents a brand-new revenue stream, which Berkeley is using for important health programs.  We hope voters and policymakers elsewhere in the country will review the findings published in PLoS Medicine and press for soda taxes in their communities.

This study won’t stop Big Soda from claiming that taxes don’t work.  But if soda taxes didn’t make a significant dent in soda consumption, the industry wouldn’t be fighting taxes so hard.

Helena Bottemiller Evich at Politico reports on the response to this study from the American Beverage Association (ABA), which I cannot find online.  The ABA:

pointed out that the reduction in sales of sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley yielded a reduction of only 6.4 calories per person, per day. The study also revealed, the group added, that the tax’s first year produced an increase of about 31 calories per person, per day from untaxed beverages. The study’s authors noted the increase appeared to be largely attributable to increased intake of milk and “other” beverages, like yogurt smoothies and milkshakes.

The ABA also argued that Berkeley — a relatively small city with a high median income that wasn’t a soda-consumption hotbed to begin with — is “a challenging place to determine the true impact of a beverage tax, unlike Philadelphia, where the tax has led to significant job losses and economic hardship for working families.”

“This study does, however, confirm that sales of taxed beverages inside the city declined while sales of those same beverages outside the city increased, which is also what is happening in Philadelphia,” the ABA said.

“America’s beverage companies know we must play a role in improving public health, which is why we are taking aggressive actions to help people reduce the sugar and calories they get from beverages,” the group continued, noting the industry has pledged to cut calories from its products across the board — with a special focus on reducing calorie consumption in a few places that have extremely high rates of obesity, including communities in Los Angeles, the Mississippi Delta and rural Alabama.

The soda tax story continues.  It is not over yet.  Stay tuned.

Here are some reports:

Apr 13 2017

Soda taxes are a movement!

The latest is Connecticut.

Here’s my list of taxes passed (!) and pending (?).  Have I missed any?  Please inform.

  • Navajo Nation (!)
  • Berkeley (!)
  • Albany, CA (!)
  • Oakland (!)
  • San Francisco (!)
  • Philadelphia (!!!) (sorry about forgetting it)
  • Boulder (!)
  • Chicago (!)
  • Santa Fe (?)
  • West Virginia (?)
  • Seattle (?)
  • Portland (?)

Healthy Food America has a handy map.

Addition: Bloomberg News has its own roundup

Apr 7 2017

Cheery weekend reading: Berkeley’s soda tax

When I was in Berkeley a couple of weeks ago, I met Dechen Tsering who works with Health, Housing and Community Services for that city.  She keeps an eye on what’s happening with the revenues collected from the city’s soda tax.

She sent me a link to the soda tax Website.

It’s full of useful information about the tax and what is happening with it.

Since 2015, the Berkeley City Council has allocated a total of $5 million from the General Funds for community agency grants and Public Health Division staffing to support the Healthy Berkeley Program. The funded programs aim to reduce consumption of all sugar-sweetened beverages.

If you want to know which organizations are getting tax funds in 2017, take a look here.

And here’s more than you ever wanted to know:

1. Complete SSB Tax Ordinance.

2. Glossary of definitions.

3. FAQs about the SSB tax.

4. SSB tax revenue 10.20.2015

5. SSB tax revenue 2.9.2016

6. SSB tax revenue 5.2.2016

7. SSB tax revenue 3.29.2017

8. SSB tax forms and instructions

Impressive, no?  A bright ray of sunshine for the weekend.

Mar 28 2017

Canadian report on soda taxes

A group of Canadian health organizations has issued a report on the health and economic impacts of sugary drink consumption, based on research they commissioned..

The research predicts dire effects if sugary drink consumption is not curtailed—more than $50 billion in health care costs over the next 25 years.

The report says that Canadians purchased an average of 444 ml of sugary drinks per day in 2015, well over the recommended sugar maximum of no more than 10% of total daily calories.

Sales of classic Coke and Pepsi are down, but look what is happening with other sugary beverages:

  • Energy drinks              +638%
  • Sweetened coffees      +579%
  • Flavoured water         +527%
  • Drinkable yogurt        +283%
  • Sweetened teas            + 36%
  • Flavoured milk            + 21%
  • Sports drinks               +  4%

The report estimates that a 20 per cent excise levy on sugary drinks will do wonders for health, and will account for government revenue of $1.7 billion per year.   These revenues could support healthy living initiatives such as

  • Subsidies for fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy school lunch programs
  • Public education
  • Food literacy and skills education
  • Physical activity initiatives
  • Food security, safe drinking water, low-fat milk in Indigenous communities

Here are the documents

Mar 15 2017

Philadelphia’s soda tax: a round up

If you are having trouble keeping up with articles about soda taxes, you are not the only one.  I’m trying to do this by dealing with one city at a time.  Here’s what’s come in recently about what’s happening in Philadelphia:

Children are getting educated in prekindergarten. The city is taking the first steps toward a massive rebuilding of parks, recreation centers, and libraries. Nine community schools are helping students and their families. The city is meeting its revenue projections, and the soda industry says sugary drinks sales have declined…The soda industry claims that sales declines are forcing them to lay off hundreds of workers. This same industry spent $10 million and made plenty of misleading claims trying to kill the tax and is now funding a lawsuit against the city over it, so we should be skeptical of any unverifiable numbers they put out. It’s particularly tough to accept their claim that they have to lay off workers now, when they are still spending hundreds of thousands on advertising, lobbyists, and lawyers.

Addition