Drawing lessons from November’s soda tax winning streak

“Soda taxes are on a big winning streak.” Thus declared a New York Times columnist, summing up November’s stunning run of victories in the Bay Area, Boulder and Cook County, IL. Those wins came months after Philadelphia became just the second U.S. city to tax sugary drinks.

There are several reasons why 2016 became the turning point in the health-driven movement to rein sugary drinks. For one, as I told the Associated Press, the industry playbook by now is predictable, so advocates can anticipate and counter their tactics. This year’s newish twist, an all-out effort to deceive people into seeing the measures as “grocery taxes”, fell as flat as week-old cola. Voters not only weren’t fooled, they sent a strong message with their high levels of support in passing the sugary drink taxes.

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Taking the less-sugar message on the road

Whatever else you think about the momentous events of this month, the adoption of five new sugary drink taxes is a capstone to a year that has seen escalating interest in combatting sugar in order to bring down diabetes, heart disease and other impacts from a broken food system.

As a result of that interest, we find ourselves on the road a lot this fall. I recently talked to folks at the Southern Obesity Summit in Houston about how communities in the South and across the nation are developing strategies to reduce consumption of added sugar. Some of the most promising ones include warning labels and taxes on sugary drinks; limits on sugary products in health care, child care, and government settings and in restaurants; marketing and retailing reforms; and communication campaigns.

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BREAKING: Cook County makes soda taxes 5 for 5 this week!

Cook County makes soda taxes 5 for 5 this week! Cook County IL joins Boulder and the Bay Area with a yes vote this week on a sugary drink tax. They continued the week’s winning streak for these measures and momentum for the movement builds as the mayor of Santa Fe announced today he will also be pursuing a two-cent tax on sugary drinks. The Cook County Board vote was 9-8 in favor of a one-cent tax on sweetened beverages.  

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Bay Area and Boulder voters say yes to a soda tax

Voters in Boulder and the Bay Area just said a resounding YES to a tax on sugary drinks. The ballot measures were approved by wide margins yesterday in San Francisco (62% in favor), Oakland (61%), Albany, CA (71%) and Boulder, CO (54%). These four cities join Berkeley, CA, where voters approved the nation’s first tax on sugary drinks in 2014, and Philadelphia, whose mayor and council adopted one in June. 

As we put it in our statement, “Despite the billions spent on marketing and more than $30 million in deceitful campaign ads, voters saw the truth and sent a clear message that their families’ health comes first – thanks to an incredible, neighbor-to-neighbor grassroots campaign led by passionate and effective local advocates and support from Michael Bloomberg and Laura and John Arnold that helped level the playing field.”

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Harvard researchers: Cook County soda tax would reduce diabetes, extend lives, and avert $222 million in health costs over 10 years

Cook County’s proposed tax on sweetened drinks would extend thousands of lives and reduce diabetes and obesity rates while saving nearly $222 million in healthcare costs over the next decade, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have concluded.

To examine the potential health impact of the proposed tax, researchers for Harvard’s CHOICES project localized a national, peer-reviewed computer model to project impacts in Cook County. The model predicts that the tax of one cent per ounce would lead many consumers to shift away from sugary drinks that cause health harms. 

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Record soda tax spending heading into final week before Election Day

Big Soda’s record-breaking spending to fight soda taxes keeps climbing as we head into the final week before Election Day. Coke, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association have now spent $40 million to protect profits against health-promoting efforts this year, with $28 million going against the ballot measures in San Francisco and Oakland.  

The industry is spending such an extraordinary sum on the Bay Area campaigns because they have nationwide ramifications. As Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson put it, “If there’s a soda tax in San Francisco and/or Oakland, then it will send a signal to cities throughout the state and probably throughout the nation.”

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Bay Area and Boulder soda taxes would extend lives, avert millions in health costs over 10 years, Harvard model projects

If all four initiatives to tax sugary drinks pass next month it would represent not only an historic loss for Big Soda, but a huge win in terms of lives and dollars saved, according to Harvard research.

Taken together, the three soda tax measures in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Boulder would extend hundreds of lives and cut diabetes and obesity rates while saving more than $60 million in healthcare costs over the next decade, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have concluded.

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Bernie vs Big Soda?

Big Soda is feeling the Bern, but not in the way they might have hoped. Senator Sanders said today he has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Big Soda to stop using his likeness in its deceptive ads to fight sugary drink tax measures.  In a statement to Politico he said:

"Advertising from the American Beverage Association that implies that I oppose ballot items in San Francisco and Oakland that would place a tax on drinks with sugar are false. I have not taken any position on those ballot items, and I have asked the American Beverage Association to stop using my name in connection with this misleading advertising."

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Jaw-dropping Big Soda spending

We knew Big Soda was spending big against soda tax measures this year, but the totals are jaw-dropping. Vox put together this graphic showing the astounding amounts Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have spent directly and also indirectly through their American Beverage Association.  

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Avoid the sugar overload on Halloween and beyond

With less than two weeks until Halloween, the sugar overload season is upon us. Market research shows four major holiday seasons made up nearly half of US candy sales: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. This Halloween will be the first of those holidays celebrated since the American Heart Association recommended that children age 2-18 should consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day and those age 0-2 should consume none. Compare that to the mounds of sugar that the typical trick-or-treater takes home in their Halloween candy. 

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