Oakland Soda Tax Backers to File Complaint over Opposition Ads

An anti-soda tax flier that was recently mailed to Oakland residents.  (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Three Oakland City Council members are calling on local and federal agencies to investigate opponents of the city's proposed soda tax on the fall ballot. They say the beverage industry's advertising is deceptive.

At issue are opposition TV ads and a flier that label the effort a "Grocery Tax [that] can be applied to any item in the store, not just sodas."

“This is not a tax on bread or vegetables or milk or cheese," said Council member Annie Campbell Washington, one of the proponents of the ordinance. "It has been disgraceful to see that the American Beverage Association has put out these fliers with blatant lies."

Washington and fellow Council members Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks plan to file complaints both with the city's Ethics Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

In a statement Joe Arellano, spokesman for the No Oakland Grocery Tax Campaign, defended the choice of words:

The backers of the grocery tax need to read their own measure. It is not a tax on beverages. It is a tax on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages, which means any retailer who sells soda can decide to spread that new tax over any item in their stores.

Arellano's group is backed with "major funding" by the American Beverage Association.

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The Oakland City Council voted unanimously in May to put a penny-per-ounce 'health impact fee' on the distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages on the November ballot.

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Similar fees on sugar-sweetened beverages will also be on the ballot in San Francisco and Albany. All three cities' proposals are modeled after the measure passed in Berkeley in 2014, the first community in the country to pass a soda tax.

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