More About Berkeley’s Soda Tax


Yesterday, we were discussing how Berkeley instituted a soda tax, and whether it was working. Apparently, good things proceeded to happen. One year ago, journalist Michael McLaughlin wrote:

Consumption of soda, energy drinks and other taxed items fell by 21 percent in some neighborhoods after the tax took effect, according to research published Tuesday in the American Journal of Public Health… Shoppers reported drinking 63 percent more water, according to surveys from a team led by University of California-Berkeley researchers.

McLaughlin went on to say:

At the same time, consumers in Oakland and San Francisco increased their consumption of soda and other sweet beverages by 4 percent, researchers found.

Did they? Or is that statistic attributable to Berkeley tax protesters, willing to travel to save money on their sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and/or to make a point? A study published by PLOS Medicine, says Bruce Y. Lee, “found that one year after the SSB tax was introduced, SSB sales fell in Berkeley by 9.6% and rose in surrounding areas by 6.9%. Meanwhile, sales of water in Berkeley jumped by 15.6%.”

Keeping their word

Berkeley voters had been told that the soda tax revenues would be spent on children’s health programs, especially in areas where economically deprived kids were succumbing to obesity. Some doubted that, and for good reason. Although the soda tax was new, Americans in many states had been told that the profits from a “sin tax” on tobacco, liquor, gambling, etc., would be used for excellent publicly-approved purposes. These rosy promises had not always been honored, which gave rise to skepticism.

But a panel of nine experts was assembled to vet the proposals made by various groups, and Heather Knight was able to report that Berkeley had kept its word regarding the soda tax proceeds. Last fall, Knight wrote:

So far, the soda tax there has raised about $2 million — and sure enough, about $2 million has been spent. Of that, 42.5 percent has gone to the Berkeley Unified School District for cooking, gardening and nutrition programs. An additional 42.5 percent has gone to community groups, including Ecology Center, Healthy Black Families and the YMCA for their health-related programs. The rest has gone to fund the administration of the program.

One of the experts, Xavier Morales, told the journalist of his satisfaction in knowing that noone could point a blaming finger or claim that Berkeley wasn’t doing it right. For instance, an organization called the Ecology Center trains youth to work at farmers’ markets and produce stands in economically distressed parts of town. They also had water bottles printed with information about the harmful effects of SSBs, and distributed them to all the Berkeley freshmen.

When investment counselors advise clients to “play the global fight-against-obesity theme,” it’s a cynical observation and a piece of self-serving advice that feeds into the endless greed of the corporate monster. It is also an admission that two different worlds coexist, one in which dollars matter more than anything, and another in which people want to keep their children and themselves out of the hospital and the morgue.

It may be a grudging admission on the part of Big Soda, but business leaders are being forced to realize that we will not simply continue forever to buy the crap they put in front of us.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Big Soda Spends Millions On ‘Unethical’ San Francisco Area Ads Fighting Drink Taxes,” HuffingtonPost,com 08/24/16
Source: “Berkeley kept its word on soda tax proceeds,”, 10/22/16
Photo credit: William Newton (Wnewton1948) via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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