California agrees on last-minute compromise to ban soda taxes for 12 years

By Beth Newhart contact

- Last updated on GMT

Drink taxes are applauded by most in the public health industry as an effective means to curbing obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Pic: ©GettyImages/Kwangmoozaa
Drink taxes are applauded by most in the public health industry as an effective means to curbing obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Pic: ©GettyImages/Kwangmoozaa

Related tags: Soda tax, Soft drink

California agreed Thursday to pass a ban on all new local soda taxes until 2031.

The beverage industry lobbied for the vote by proposing a compromise on a separate ballot measure.

After Berkeley, Calif. passed the first tax on sugary drinks in the US in 2014, other cities have passed, proposed or overturned similar laws. The beverage industry, however, has been fighting back against such taxes. 

Earlier this month, the beverage industry successfully funded a ballot measure that had enough support to make it onto the California ballot in November 2018. It would have raised the threshold of support needed for any tax increases by local government, requiring two-thirds support from the public (up from 50%).

They agreed to withdraw this unpopular ballot measure from consideration if the soda tax ban passed instead.

Sugar tax debate continues

Sugary drink taxes have been a major topic in local government for the last several years, inciting powerful debates on and off the senate floor. Drink taxes are applauded by most in the public health industry as an effective means to curbing obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, particularly in children.

But not all consumers are on board with being priced out of their favorite soft drinks, and beverage companies are against losing out on sales as a result of the tax.

California's new legislation prevents new taxes on any groceries until 2031 - a measure aimed at soft drinks although it covers wider food and beverages.

It’s very unusual for a deal of this nature to happen at the last minute, according to Dr. John Maa, a volunteer with the American Heart Association (AHA) as Chair of the Western States Affiliate Advocacy Committee and a physician in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“This is one of the most remarkable debates I’ve ever seen in the legislature and I’ve been a resident here for last 25 years following California politics. It’s just amazing to witness and to see the arguments that are being made,”​ Maa told BeverageDaily.

The American Heart Association has been vocally opposed to the bill and a supporter of sugary drink taxes at the local level.

Speaking on Thursday, Maa said: “As an organization, we regard that the effort that’s being debated today as a new low in the beverage industry’s increasingly desperate attempts to preserve its profits by any possible means, even at the cost of undermining democracy itself. But despite this setback, the American Heart Association will redouble our efforts to support the right of communities to make decisions that help their residents lead healthier lives."

However, the American Beverage Association said in a statement that the decision would “provide protections for working families, our customers and our consumers”​ by keeping beverages in California affordable.

Following Thursday’s decision, the AHA released a new statement condemning the result and expressing concern for the future of local communities.

“This is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have seen in more than 30 years spent fighting for better health for kids and families. We could not be more disappointed to see this bill, taken straight from the tobacco industry playbook, pass and will urge Governor Brown to veto this appalling legislation,”​ said Nancy Brown, CEO, American Heart Association.

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