The Sweet That Costs: San Francisco's "Soda Tax" Goes Further Than Soda

Coca-Cola is The Pause That Refreshes and The Real Thing. It also turns out to be extremely malleable. For decades it symbolized the Free West of handsome soldiers, white-suited soda jerks, and wholesome bathing beauties; this was the sort of thing worth razing the Berlin Wall to get your hands on.

Those days are long gone, but Coca-Cola still epitomizes the Free West — where we're free to drink ourselves into a slothful state of obesity and diabetes.

These things, too, go better with Coke.

Fred Noland

Supervisor Scott Wiener has spearheaded a crusade that will culminate in voters' pending yea or nay on a "Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages to Fund Food and Health Programs." If two-thirds of San Francisco's November electorate wills it to be so, future purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages will carry a tax of two cents per ounce (this rate polled just as well as a penny per ounce, and carries a "more significant reduction factor"). Tax backers claim upwards of $31 million a year would sweeten the pot for city programs involving active recreation, school lunches, and other meritorious things.

That's a key point: Designating specific destinations for the funds will mandate the two-thirds vote; if Wiener's measure merely lumped the money into the city's general fund it'd require a mere majority. "We think it is absolutely the case we have a better chance of passing it at the two-thirds threshold," Wiener says, "because the voters will have confidence where the money is going."

The American Beverage Association-backed outfit targeting the proposal, meanwhile, has confidence voters will be unnerved when they realize just how many sugar-sweetened beverages there are. A list of more than 350 drinks is currently making the rounds. To the amazement of no one, three separate varieties of Mountain Dew stand to be taxed. More counter-intuitive: SoBe Berry Soy Blend, Glaceau VitaminWater Acai Blueberry Pomegranate, and Ocean Spray 100 Percent Cranberry Juice — which is at least some percent added sugar.

In fact, any drink in which at least 25 calories per 12 ounces are derived from added sweeteners falls under the aegis of the tax.

Of course, natural sugars are no healthier than added sugars; a San Franciscan shunted from taxed Sunny Delight to tax-exempt orange juice is consuming as much or more sugar and as many or more calories — and not surrendering his or her two cents per ounce to worthy causes.

Wiener, however, is hopeful most San Franciscans would switch to healthier drinks or simply guzzle fewer sugary beverages. As for the health of his legislation, he says most polls put it in the high 60s — around where it needs to be.

His opponents, however have a lot of sugar left to spend.

My Voice Nation Help

If the American Beverage Association actually believed that laws “will fail to change behaviors in a lasting or meaningful way,” why are they fighting so hard to defeat this measure?  Clearly the ABA is focused on Big Soda's profits and not the health of San Francisco's children.

Our country is built on a system of laws that protect American values, including a value that is central to our very existence:  The health and well-being of every citizen.   Sugary drinks, which are fueling San Francisco’s diabetes epidemic, are a huge threat to the health and well-being of San Francisco's children and families.

Regulatory approaches work.  Take the seat belt law, which has reduced serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about 50%.  Or laws to reduce tobacco use:  In the past 50 years, through a system of taxes and other regulatory approaches, we have seen a dramatic drop in tobacco use.  Fifty years ago, 48% of adults smoked; today only 18% of them do.The examples are endless, but why settle for analogies?  Just look at Mexico, which, earlier this year passed a soda tax of 1 peso per litre.  As reported in the Wall Street Journal, soda consumption fell between 5%-7% in the first month that the tax was in place.

San Franciscans should vote for the soda tax because it WILL reduce soda consumption while generating funds for active recreation, school lunch programs, physical education and food access in our City and schools.  To help get this tax passed, go to


Soda is the new tobacco - we need to vote yes on this tax and stop believing the lies being peddled by big sugar money - enough said!


Under the guise of health, lawmakers continue to claim that taxing soda or other common, everyday items is good for the general populace; will lower rates of obesity, etc. But, actually, studies show that so-called “sin-taxes” won’t address health issues, despite politicians’ earnest promises. In fact, research published in The American Journal of Agricultural Economics found that the reduced calorie intake from soft drinks would cause an increase in calories consumed from other foods, particularly those containing high sodium and fat:

What would such regulations and restrictions achieve? A range of consequences, from taking a bigger bite out of hard-working citizens’ wallets to limiting choices and burdening businesses and the jobs they provide. Meanwhile, as real-world examples prove, this type of government interference won’t help health:

At the end of the day, education-based approaches that teach balancing all calories with physical activity will succeed, whereas regulatory approaches will fail to change behaviors in a lasting or meaningful way. 

-American Beverage Association 

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