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.”

It’s a signal that started in Berkeley, CA and was picked up by Philadelphia PA. Boulder, CO joins the Bay Area with an initiative on the Nov 8 ballot while Cook County, IL is also working on a policy to tax sugary drinks.  

It’s a signal that’s spreading rapidly because, as our David Goldberg pointed out, "The science on the connection between sugary drinks & health is rock-solid at this point." And cities need revenues to support local priorities like universal pre-K and diabetes prevention.

Advocates have used paid media to share that science with voters after getting major financial backing from Michael Bloomberg, John Arnold and Laura Arnold. Big Soda is still outspending the pro side on paid media by nearly two to one but earned media has helped narrow that gap.

Some of that earned media has come from scientific studies that have garnered these headlines:

Some of that earned media has come from Big Soda behaving badly:

  • Bernie Sanders wants out of “false” anti-soda tax ads: “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.”
  • 5 worst political ads of 2016: The Editorial Board, USA TODAY: “If there were an award for ads that are both false and laughable, this year’s would have to go to one being run by a California beverage industry group urging residents of Oakland to vote against a proposed ‘grocery tax.’”
  • Grocers Are Caught in the Middle of Soda Wars: “The Investigative Unit spoke to grocers who appear in the commercials financed by the American Beverage Association. Even though they are the faces of the campaign, most of the grocers who spoke to NBC Bay Area did not agree that the measure is a grocery tax.”

Some of that earned media has come from those who have taken on Big Soda and won:

  • Berkeley kept its word on soda tax proceeds: “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.”
  • Philly was the first major US city to pass a soda tax. The mayor has advice for others: “Don’t be afraid of big soda. They are not that tough. They were very, very arrogant, rude, and they just think they have a right to these kinds of profits. I have nothing against them personally. But they were so dismissive and entitled, it was really kind of shocking.”

We’ll soon know if Big Soda’s record breaking spending will win out over the science and the health of the community or if Boulder and the Bay Area will rack up another win for kids. For the latest news of sugary drink taxes and other efforts to bring sugar back to healthy levels, follow us on Facebook and Twitter


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