Pros & Cons: Berkeley Measure D Nov. 2014

Measure D: Berkeley Soda Tax:   A Tax on Distributors of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

  • Simple Majority Required

The Question: Should Berkeley charge a 1¢ per ounce general tax on drinks such as sodas, energy drinks, presweetened teas and coffees and the caloric sweeteners used to make them? The following would not be taxed: sugar, honey and syrups bought by consumers at grocery stores; drinks and sweeteners distributed to very small retailers; diet drinks, milk products, 100% juice, baby formula, alcohol, or drinks taken for medical reasons.

The Way It Is Now: Scientific studies have linked high levels of sweetener consumption to increased rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. The Institute of Medicine recommends that a moderately active person age 31–50 should eat about 1,400–2,600 calories per day. One 12-oz. can of a sweetened drink has 10 or more teaspoons of sugar or 160 or more calories. According to the 1999–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American consumed 22.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or 360 calories, almost half from sodas and fruit drinks.

Fiscal Effect: According to the Healthy Child Coalition, supporters of Measure D, the soda tax would raise approximately $1.5 million each year for the city of Berkeley.

Supporters Say:

  • Scientific evidence shows that sweetened drinks are linked to diabetes and heart disease.
  • In 2008–09, over 40% of Berkeley ninth graders were overweight or obese. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control project that 1 of every 3 American children and nearly half of African American and Latino children will develop diabetes within their lifetimes.
  • Big Soda spends hundreds of millions of dollars aggressively marketing sweetened drinks to children—even bypassing parents by texting teens directly
  • With the help of a panel of health professionals and educators the Council will use the tax money to educate children and families about healthy foods and encourage healthy eating habits.

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Opponents Say:

  • Tax receipts from Berkeley’s Measure D will go into the city’s general fund. There is no guarantee the

money will be spent on improving public health, unlike the proposed San Francisco measure, which dedicates the tax funds to local health and wellness programs.

  • Obesity and diabetes are important problems, but Measure D takes the wrong approach to solving them.
  • Measure D contains arbitrary and confusing exemptions; for example, chocolate milk will not be taxed. Some stores will have to pay the tax and others will not.
  • Shop owners could choose to raise prices on any or all items, not necessarily on sweetened drinks, so the tax rise would not be visible to shoppers.

Web site:

The full text of Measure D:

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