San Francisco may put sugary drinks tax to a vote

Reuters

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 29 (Reuters) - San Francisco may becomethe latest U.S. city to try to curb the consumption of sugarydrinks with a proposed ballot measure to impose afirst-of-its-kind tax on beverages seen as a culprit in risingrates of childhood obesity and diabetes.

Supervisor Scott Wiener planned on Tuesday to formallypropose asking voters in November 2014 to impose a2-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other drinks with added sugarsold in the famously liberal northern California city.

No other U.S. city is known to have succeeded in enactingsuch a tax, though a similar proposal is in the works in thesmall southwestern Colorado town of Telluride, according to theRudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

"There is mounting scientific evidence that sugary beveragesare significantly contributing to an epidemic of diabetes,obesity and other health concerns that we're seeing in ourcountry," Wiener told Reuters.

The meeting was due to begin at 2 p.m. Pacific time.

Opposed by the beverage industry, the proposal followsfailed attempts last year by two other California cities,Richmond and El Monte, to become the first in the nation toimpose penny-per-ounce taxes on businesses that sell sugarydrinks.

Across the nation in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban large, sugary drinks only to have the move declaredillegal by a state judge. New York's highest court has agreed tohear an appeal.

In San Francisco, Wiener said his proposed ballot measurewould reduce the consumption of sugary beverages whilespecifically setting aside proceeds of the tax for physicaleducation and health programs.

By contrast, revenues from the taxes proposed in Richmondand El Monte would have gone to those cities' general funds.

"Voters really want to know where their tax money is goingto go," Wiener said.

The tax would amount to an extra 24 cents per average12-ounce (35 cl) can of soda, and Wiener said it would bring inan estimated $30 million in tax proceeds annually. It wouldapply to drinks with added sugar and at least 25 calories perounce.

A third of the expected tax windfall would go to SanFrancisco schools for physical education and healthy lunchprograms, and the remainder would go to city parks andrecreation programs and community health organizations.

Roughly two out of three California voters surveyed in atelephone Field Poll last fall and released in February saidthey would support taxing sugary beverages if proceeds were tiedto improving school nutrition and physical activity programs.The poll of 1,184 voters had a margin of error of plus or minus3 percentage points.

Wiener planned to introduce the proposal to the Board ofSupervisors on Tuesday afternoon. It would go to a city Budgetand Finance subcommittee for a hearing in the spring.

The board would vote between May and July on whether to addthe tax measure to the city's elections ballot, Wiener said. Itwould need two-thirds support from voters in order pass.

A spokesman for the American Beverage Society, which opposesthe measure, said raising taxes and restricting drinkconsumption would not necessarily lead to a healthierpopulation.

"Californians have rejected beverage taxes like the one SanFrancisco Supervisor Scott Wiener proposes because such measuresare unnecessary, wasteful distractions from seriouspolicymaking," spokesman Chuck Finnie said in a statement.

The society, which represents industry leaders includingPepsiCo Inc and Snapple Group Inc, has spentmillions of dollars fighting proposed soda taxes around thecountry.

"Providing people with education, opportunities for physicalactivity and diverse beverage choices to fit their lifestylesare proven strategies for maintaining health," Finnie said.

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