(Corrects to 800,000 voters, not 800,00 voters, in paragraph 2)
By Chris Prentice
NEW YORK Nov 4 As Americans vote for a new
president on Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of voters in
California's Bay Area and Boulder, Colorado, will also decide
whether they want levies on sugary drinks, another step toward
making soda taxes a norm.
Three cities in California - San Francisco, Berkeley and
Albany - and Boulder, Colorado, have become the latest
battleground in a so-called "War on Sugar" that centers on
sweetened drinks. Over 800,000 voters will decide on ballot
measures to introduce taxes of 1 or 2 cents per ounce on soft
drinks on Nov. 9, just weeks after the World Health Organization
(WHO) advocated that governments should impose these types of
The push for taxes on sugar and sodas has gathered momentum
this year, as officials and health advocates seek ways to stem
health epidemics of diabetes and obesity. On most ballots, the
tax would not apply to diet sodas but does affect some juices,
sports drinks and other beverages with added sugar.
Reducing consumption of sugary drinks is seen as a
relatively easy way for people to cut down on added sugars,
recommended by groups including the WHO, the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and the American Heart Association.
The trend has prompted worry and millions of dollars in
advertising and lobbying campaigns from beverage industry giants
like PepsiCo Inc and Coca-Cola Co that are facing
declining sales of their flagship products in markets including
the United States.
So far this year, Britain and Philadelphia decided to
introduce levies on soft drinks and countries including South
Africa have proposed similar measures. This follows a decision
by Mexico to introduce such a tax in 2014. The broadening of
these efforts raises the prospect of establishing them as the
norm after numerous previous attempts failed, advocates say.
"The more these taxes pass, the more they will be considered
in other jurisdictions," said Jim O'Hara, health promotion
policy director with the Center for Science in the Public
Interest in Washington.
SODA ON THE DEFENSIVE
Both Pepsi and Coke have are increasing options for less
sugary drinks, responding to changing consumer tastes.
Consumption of carbonated soft drinks hit a 30-year low in the
United States last year, as water sales continued their climb,
according to Beverage Digest.
The majority of California voters support government measure
to reduce consumption of sugary beverages, according to a Field
Poll released in February. In San Francisco, a 2014 vote for a
similar tax failed to pass a two-thirds vote, but is expected by
many to succeed this time around, as only a simple majority is
required. The votes in the other cities are expected by both
advocates and opponents alike to be tighter.
Fighting for survival, Big Soda has been outspending
advocates of the measure, but not by much. Industry spending to
oppose the taxes this year in the Bay Area alone has swelled to
around $27 million to $28 million, versus around some $19
million by advocates, according to estimates from both sides.
Billionaires including Michael Bloomberg have joined the
fray, contributing $15 million to pro-tax campaigns in the Bay
Area. The former mayor of New York waged an unsuccessful
campaign in the city to cut soda sizes in 2014.
Opponents say the tax, which would be levied on
distributors, is unfairly targeted at drinks makers and could
raise food costs beyond just soda.
"In effect, this is a grocery tax. It could be spread out on
many items" by distributors, said Joe Arellano, spokesman for
the "No Grocery Tax" campaigns in California's Bay area.
In the California cities, the measures would introduce a
penny-per-ounce tax. In Boulder, it would be 2 cents.
It is unclear how long-lasting the impacts of such taxes
would be, but some early research on such taxes in nearby
Berkeley and in Mexico suggest partial pass-through of the taxes
from businesses to customers and an impact on consumption.
(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)