California lawmakers have again introduced legislation to impose a fee on sodas and other sugary beverages -- not a true tax, but a "health impact fee" to be paid by beverage distributors.
Still, the presumption is that the two-cents-an-ounce fee -- 24 cents on a 12-ounce can of soda -- would be passed along to consumers, and, if passed, would raise $2 billion annually.
"That's real money," said the legislation's author, Assemblymember Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica.
The revenue would go into a "Healthy California Fund," to be created by the bill. From there it would be spent on public health programs across the state, to fight obesity, diabetes and dental disease.
"It's not going to fix things overnight," Bloom said, "but as this money starts to flow ... that's going to have the effect, long term, of leading Californians to healthier lifestyles and also lower health costs."
Bloom said that medical research is pointing to sugar-sweetened beverages as a driver of diabetes and other health problems.
Bob Achermann, the executive director of CalBev, a statewide industry group, said the organization is opposed to the bill. He said that obesity and diabetes are "complicated problems" and a broader approach is needed.
"Calories from any source" can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, Achermann said, "so we think focusing on sugar-sweetened beverages isn't appropriate, and it isn't fair."
The Associated Press reports that California lawmakers have attempted either a so-called soda tax or a warning label seven times between 2010 and 2015. None has passed.
Bloom introduced the soda tax legislation last year as well. It did not make it out of the Assembly Health committee. Bloom says he has "kept up the discussion" with fellow legislators and that new studies "point in the same direction and tell us that sugary beverages are an anathema to public health."
He expects the Assembly Health committee to hear this new legislation in a month or so.
Berkeley is the only city in California to have a fee on sugar-sweetened beverages. The penny-per-ounce fee was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2014 and is levied on distributors.
The new U.S. dietary guidelines urge all Americans to limit sugar consumption to no more than 10 percent of daily calories, or about 12 teaspoons. By comparison, a can of Coke or other (non-diet) soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar.