San Francisco voters will decide in November whether to make history by approving the first soda tax in the nation after the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to place the levy on the ballot.
While some board members objected to resorting to a tax to change diet choices, the majority said that just like cigarettes, it will take a tax to reduce consumption. The measure was placed on the ballot in a 6-4 vote.
If approved by voters, a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages with 25 or more calories would be assessed. It will require a two-thirds vote to pass.
"My daughter is a teenager. The classmates of her generation, one-third of them currently are obese," Supervisor Eric Mar said. "If we do nothing today, one-third of these children today will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. That is not right. We have to do something about it."
The measure has received strong support from organizations such as Parent Teachers Associations and the San Francisco Medical Society as well as nurses.
Expressing her opposition for the initiative, Supervisor Jane Kim said she is against resorting to a "sin tax" to address the health issue.
"A regressive flat tax is not the way to go. Instead of taxing the things we don't want to see, we should be subsidizing the food that we want people to be eating," said Kim, who also noted she has opposed cigarette taxes. "We are placing this burden unfairly on certain groups of folks."
Supervisor Scott Wiener, who helped spearhead the local effort, said the cigarette taxation model is precisely what's needed as it has helped dramatically decrease smoking rates.
"These products are making people sick. They are making our kids sick. The cigarette tax is a great model," said Wiener, noting that 10 teaspoons of sugar are in a can of soda.
Efforts targeted at sugary drinks, including a proposal against large soft drinks in New York City, have been strongly challenged by the American Beverage Association.
"San Francisco has higher priorities than regulating our food and beverage choices," said Roger Salazar, spokesman for Stop Unfair Beverage Tax. "This measure is no substitute for parents having the right to make their own responsible choices for their children. The only thing this tax does is increase grocery prices for San Franciscans and place additional burdens on businesses in the City that are already struggling to get by."
Analysis by the city controller's economist Ted Egan estimates that San Francisco guzzles about 3 billion ounces of soda and other sugary beverages annually and the tax could decrease consumption by as much as 31 percent. The levy could also generate up to $54 million in revenue, which would go toward such things as nutritional school lunches, dental care for low-income residents, increased recreation center hours and water-bottle fill stations.
Egan also predicted that between 80 and 100 percent of the tax would be passed on to soda-buying customers, not spread out across other items, and the soda costs would increase by between 22 and 36 percent.
Supervisors Kim, Norman Yee, Katy Tang and London Breed opposed the measure. Supervisor John Avalos, who supports the soda tax, was excused from the meeting. Avalos' staff said he was spending time with family.
Mayor Ed Lee hasn't taken a position on the measure but on Tuesday, his spokesman said the mayor is actively working to pass three other ballot measures, including raising the minimum wage to $15.