A soda tax failed at the ballot at two California cities last November. Before that, a statewide soda tax failed two years ago. But advocates and legislators are trying again. A bill that would require a penny-per-ounce tax on any sugary beverage is back in front of legislators and, so far, has passed out of two Senate committees.
The bill by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) has two explicit goals: to "discourage excessive consumption" by increasing the price of sugary drinks and to create a Children's Health Promotion Fund.
"We're in the midst of a public health crisis fueled by childhood obesity," CaliforniaHealthline reports Monning said to the Senate Committee on Health last week. "This legislation sets an alternative path toward health and wellness."
The health committee approved the bill. Next stop is the Senate appropriations committee.
While the soda industry is expected to be back in force for this bill, as it was for the other soda-tax efforts, this time there are new forces in play.
(T)wo factors may change the tide: public sentiment appears to be shifting and Democrats have a supermajority in both houses of the California Legislature. ...
A Field poll released in February showed 68% of California voters would support a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages if the revenue supported school nutrition and physical activity programs. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said sugary drinks are the main culprit in what most health leaders agree is an obesity epidemic among young Californians.
"Sugary drinks are the largest driver of the obesity crisis," Goldstein told legislators last week. "Almost 40% of California children are overweight, and one-third of all children, including half of Latino and African American children born in 2000, will have diabetes sometime in their lives. SB 622 is a critical step toward solving this crisis by reducing consumption of sugary drinks and paying for programs to address the problems caused by these beverages," Goldstein said.
Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) chair of the Senate health committee, said he supports the bill because it will help even the odds that Californians -- especially kids -- might choose less sugary drinks.
"We're on an unlevel playing field in terms of advertising around these products," Hernandez said. "For families living in food deserts -- low-income minority families -- these drinks become staples. If we raise costs, we know it will achieve the public health goal of reducing consumption," Hernandez said.
CaliforniaHealthline reports that estimates of tax revenues range from $1.2 billion to $2.6 billion each year. The money would be allocated to the State Department of Public Health and the Superintendent of Public Instruction for obesity and dental disease prevention programs.
Opponents worry that prices will rise on all drinks, not just sugar-sweetened ones.
Again, from CaliforniaHealthline:
"Dramatic increases in prices will be passed on to the consumer, and it won't just be consumers of sugar-sweetened drinks," Achermann told the Senate health committee last week. "We think this will raise prices on all products," Achermann said. "We think it will raise all boats in terms of prices, including diet drinks."
Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego), vice chair of the Senate health committee, explained his no vote.
"This heavy-handed tax will disproportionally target lower-income working families and create another barrier to growing career opportunities for Californians," Anderson said.
And in other health news from Sacramento, the legislature is considering a law to require all vending machines in state buildings to offer only healthy foods. Right now, vending machines must carry 35 percent healthy foods. If this law passes, by 2017, vending machines would no longer carry any junk foods or sugary sodas.