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PHI in the News

Is the Soda Tax on Your Ballot Actually a Grocery Tax?

October 14, 2016 | KQED

This KQED article cites preliminary findings of a PHI study, which looked at retail scanner data of millions of transactions in Berkeley and found the cost of the tax was predominantly passed on to the price of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. “We also did not see a rise in the average grocery bill,” said Lynn Silver, one of the researchers with the Public Health Institute.

Supporters of taxing soda distributors in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany see these November 2016 ballot measures as a fundraising tool to stem a growing Type 2 diabetes epidemic. But opponents say it’s really a “grocery tax” that will hurt low-income residents and small businesses.

So which one is it, a soda tax or a grocery tax?

By charging distributors 1 cent per ounce of sugar-sweetened drinks they bring into a city, all three Bay Area ballot measures aim to raise significant funds—over $7.5 million in San Francisco, $6 million in Oakland and $220,000 in Albany per year—for health and education programs to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks.

Oakland voters are receiving mailers like these for (left) and against (right) Oakland's proposed tax on distributors of sugary drinks.
The anti-tax campaign has far outspent proponents. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

“To really educate young people, catch them early and teach them what comes from consumption of sugary beverages, the damage that causes,” said Annie Campbell Washington, Oakland vice mayor, City Council member and a big supporter of the tax.

That probably sounds terrifying to the soda industry. So the American Beverage Association, representing giants like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, has spent more than $14 million to fight the proposals, which are pretty similar in all three cities. Their massive ad campaign in the Bay Area often features small-business owners of color.

“I have a dream to expand my business. This tax could kill it. Join me, vote no on the S.F. Grocery Tax,” says Danielle Reed, a cafe owner, in one of the ads.

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