When it comes to curbing obesity, some believe making the worst foods more expensive would lead consumers to healthier options. Others say taxing these cheap, highly-processed foods and drinks is unfairly penalizing people for their choices. The latest stand on such taxes will occur in San Francisco this November when voters there decide on a soda tax.
The ballot initiative would put a two cent tax on every ounce of soda or sugary beverage sold. It would apply to all sweetened, nonalcoholic drinks with more than 25 calories per ounce.
Similar efforts have failed in cities like Richmond, California, where the American Beverage Association launched a counter-campaign, spending millions to fight the tax.
“Taxing sugar sweetened beverages won’t alter lifestyle,” said Roger Salazar of the Coalition for an Affordable City: Stop Unfair Beverage Taxes, part of the American Beverage Association. “All it really does is impact the very people that are struggling to get by in San Francisco at a time when they can least afford it.”
City leaders in San Francisco voted 6-4 to put the measure on the ballot.
If passed, it is estimated that the new tax could bring in up to $54 million per year, money that would go to programs that improve community access to food, health, and nutrition. It’s also estimated that such a tax could reduce soda consumption by 31 percent, which could lead to less obesity, diabetes, and ultimately, better health and better productivity.
“I think the nation is watching what happens here,” said John Maa, a surgeon and board member at the San Francisco Medical Society and the American Heart Association—two organizations the support the tax. “It’s been referred to as a last stand.”
Perhaps if it’s going to happen anywhere, it will happen in San Francisco. The city is no stranger to progressive municipal policies. They were one of the first to ban plastic shopping bags and have campaigned against water bottles as well. The city nearly banned Happy Meals several years ago, though the effort was vetoed, as Anthony Gucciardi reported in 2010.
Is legislating our way to more eco-friendly and health-conscious communities the answer?