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The Soda Tax Fight Just Got More Complicated

The Lempert Report: States are passing bills to prevent penalties on sugary drinks

A state bill banning localities from taxing food and beverages has come out of nowhere in Michigan.

According to PR Watch, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder within weeks, and Gov. Doug Ducey in Arizona signed a similarly fast-tracked bill.  

In Washington State, the soda industry is going a step further. After watching Seattle’s soda tax take effect last month, the industry started a statewide ballot initiative campaign that would prevent other cities in the state from implementing a similar tax. These are clear instances of corporate special interests convincing legislators to block local laws that would hurt their profitability. 

The public health community—pediatricians, dentists, the American Heart Association and more—are energized to take action as never before on soda and other sugary drinks because new data is showing that consuming sugar in liquid form increases risks of serious health conditions, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity, in a much more significant way than was previously known. More than three-quarters of American adults are considered overweight or obese, as well as 30% of children. Those cities with a soda tax, such as Philadelphia and Berkely, Calif., have shown remarkable changes in consumption and will certainly lead to a healthier population.

One study found that consuming just one to two sugary drinks per day increases your risk of developing diabetes a whopping 26%, and another study showed that men averaging one can of a sugary drink per day had a 20% increased risk of heart attack.  

Let's put our health aside—or, so wants the American Beverage Association as they embark on a campaign to fight these soda taxes. The ABA is putting their spin on it and wants to sell it as a “grocery tax” that harms everyone, not just those who drink soda. One example in Chicago is when a professional-looking African American woman tells the camera, “We’re being taxed out of Cook County. I’m a single mom. I can’t afford this tax.”   

The soda industry spent $48.9 million on recent soda tax opposition campaigns in Cook County, Ill.; Philadelphia; Boulder, Colo.; San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, Calif.; Seattle; and Santa Fe, N.M., according to a November 2017 report by the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest.  

Their new campaign is called "Yes To Affordable Groceries." And while soda has been an important profit center for supermarkets in years past, the time has come for retailers to stand up and protect the health and well-being of their shoppers and understand that by not supporting these types of programs, it sends a signal to the companies to provide healthier offerings, and to shoppers that retailers really care about them.

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