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California’s Sugary Drink Tax Proposal Has Not Yet Fizzled

June 10, 2013 | Cyndi Walter

Despite setbacks, California’s sugary drink tax proposal has not yet fizzled.

The proposal, along with past initiatives, has served as a wake-up call for many Californians about the need to offset the cost of the $52 billion a year obesity crisis in the state. And, it has galvanized citizens and organizations that see sugar sweetened beverages as a huge part of the problem.

Senate Bill 622, California’s Sweetened Beverage Tax by Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel), was put in the suspense file by the Senate Committee on Appropriations last month.  Bills that have an anticipated cost to the state are routinely placed in the suspense file.  SB 622 was held on suspense due to the start-up costs that would be incurred by the Board of Equalization to administer the tax.  However, the bill will be reconsidered by Senate Appropriations early next year. 

The California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), the sponsor of the bill, plans to rally advocates from across the state to identify a plan of action to advance the bill. “SB 622 will tax soda and other sugary drinks to pay for the unique and proven harm these products are causing to the health of Californians, particularly children,” said Dr. Harold Goldstein, Executive Director of CCPHA. “Two-thirds of California voters support taxing sugar-sweetened beverages to pay for obesity prevention programs like healthier school food and physical education.”

Sugary drinks are the single largest contributor to obesity, which can lead to, among many illnesses, diabetes and heart disease. The average American drinks 45 gallons of sugary drinks a year, adding 39 pounds of sugar to their diet. Sugary drinks contributed 40 percent of the new calories consumed by Americans since the obesity crisis began. 

SB622 would levy one penny per fluid ounce on sugary drinks such as sodas, energy drinks, sweetened teas, and sports drinks. Sponsors estimate the bill would raise $1.7 billion annually for childhood obesity prevention programs such as park and recreation programs, nutrition education, healthy school meals, and physical education.

“The Public Health Institute and its many programs, including California Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition), and others, are placing a high priority on addressing sugary drinks,”   said Mary Pittman, DrPH, president and chief executive officer of the Public Health Institute.  “We are committed to advancing the sugary drink tax, and will continue to work toward reduced access to and consumption of sugary drinks in our communities with an eye toward reaching those whom are most vulnerable.”


Cyndi Walter is program director of PHI's California Project LEAN