First 'soda tax' takes effect in Berkeley. Will others follow?

The first 'soda tax' in US took effect on January 1 in Berkeley, increasing the price of a can of soda by 12 cents, and a one-liter bottle by 68 cents. Soda taxes such as this one are meant to curb consumption of sugary drinks.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez/File
Dr. Vicki Alexander, of the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition, celebrates with fellow supporters after the passing of Measure D, imposing a sales tax on soda drinks in Berkeley, Calif. Berkeley voters became the first in the country to approve taxing sodas to curb consumption, after costly campaigns by the soda industry helped defeat similar taxes in more than 30 other cities and states in recent years.

Residents of Berkeley, CA trying to lose weight may find it easier to keep their New Year’s resolution this year. The first “soda tax” in the United States took effect on January 1st, adding one-cent-per-ounce to the cost of specific sugar-added beverages, including sodas, sweetened teas, and energy drinks. The passage of Berkeley’s Measure D, which experts say is meant to help fight obesity and diabetes rates, has reignited a debate between the food industry, health professionals, and activists trying to get Americans to eat healthier.

On November 4th, Berkeley voted 75 percent in favor of the soda tax, which will increase the price of a can of soda by 12 cents, and a one-liter bottle by 68 cents. A similar ballot measure in nearby San Francisco for a two-cent-per-ounce tax failed to pass.

Proponents of soda taxes throughout the country cite consumption of sugary drinks as a key factor in growing rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Taking a page from the anti-tobacco lobby, these activists have worked to highlight the health issues that big soda is creating, first working to get soft drinks out of the school lunch room, and now campaigning for taxes on these sugary drinks. Soda taxes such as this one are meant to force consumers to make healthier decisions for themselves and their children. The logic behind the tax is supported by recent studies, including one out of Duke University showing that a 20 percent soda tax can lead to a decreased caloric intake of almost five percent.

Those who oppose the soda tax include the big soda companies, and those who believe that government should not be regulating consumers’ food choices.  It is clear that the big soda companies fear a domino effect, where similar taxes will start to pop up throughout the country. The American Beverage Association, representing companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, reportedly spent US$11 million campaigning against the tax initiatives in San Francisco and Berkeley.

The soda tax experiment is still in its infancy for the U.S., and it remains to be seen how far it will spread and what effects will come of it. Proponents of the tax are hopeful that they can replicate results similar to those in Mexico, which saw a 10 percent decrease in soda consumption during the first three months of 2014 following the implementation of a national soda tax.

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