Heather Knight, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009
(09-17) 20:36 PDT -- Calling soda the new tobacco, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will introduce legislation this fall that would charge a fee to retailers that sell sugary beverages.
Newsom would need voter approval to tax individual cans of soda and sugary juice, but only needs approval from the Board of Supervisors to levy a fee on retailers. His legislation would charge grocery stores like Safeway and big-box stores, but would not affect restaurants that serve sodas.
Newsom wouldn't say how much the stores would have to pay or how the city would spend the fees. When he first floated the idea in 2007, he said the money would go to his Shape Up San Francisco exercise program and for media campaigns to discourage soda drinking.
The mayor said the city attorney's office has warned him the city would probably be sued over the matter, but he said it is worth the risk to try to curb a leading cause of obesity and diabetes.
"We know we'll be sued," he said. "But I really believe this is important to do."
Newsom said he was particularly motivated to move forward with the legislation by Thursday's release of a UCLA study showing a link between soda and obesity in California. Researchers found that adults who drink at least one soft drink a day are 27 percent more likely to be obese than those who don't - and that soda consumption is fueling the state's $41 billion annual obesity problem.
The study also found that 41 percent of children and 62 percent of teens drink at least one soda daily.
"Soda is cheap, sweet and irresistibly marketed to teens," said Susan Babey, the study's lead author. "Not enough teens know about the health and dietary risks of drinking huge quantities of what is essentially liquid sugar." San Francisco would be the first city in the country to levy a fee on soda if, as expected, it is approved by the board. A handful of states, including Arkansas and Missouri, tax sodas, and California has considered the idea in the past. A soda tax has also come up in the national debate about health care reform as one way to help pay to insure more people.
The American Beverage Association has consistently fought attempts to implement soda taxes, and on Thursday released a statement combatting UCLA's study.
It read in part, "If our goal is to address obesity, then educating consumers about the importance of balancing calories consumed from all foods and beverages with the calories expended through physical activity is what matters - not demonizing any one particular food."
In San Francisco, a soda tax would be just the most recent example of a long line of legislation intended to improve residents' health - a pattern some residents have complained smacks of a nanny state.
In recent years, city officials have banned the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies, added a fee to packs of cigarettes, required chain restaurants to display calories and fat content on menus, and created a program to recognize restaurants that don't serve trans fats.
Jim Lazarus, vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said the group opposes the soda tax.
"Does this mean there's a fee on candy bars, on ice cream, on potato chips?" he asked. "Where do you draw the line?"
He added that a small fee - likely to be passed on from the retailer to the consumer - wouldn't be enough to dramatically change people's habits, leading him to believe it's meant to be just another revenue source for the city.
Mitch Katz, director of the city's Department of Public Health, said a study conducted over the past nine months shows a clear link between soda consumption and an increased burden on the public health system. He did not have a total dollar figure.
Just a first step
He said he considers a soda fee an incremental step, and that other sugary foods could someday have a surcharge as well.
"It makes sense for the government to help people to make the right choices, and it makes sense to use dollars from charges on sweetened beverages on health programs," he said.
Soda and obesity
A new UCLA study examined sugary drinks and their effect on state spending and consumers' health.
$41 billion Amount spent treating obesity in California each year.
41 percent Kids ages 2-11 who drink at least one soda every day.
62 percent Adolescents 12-17 who drink at least one soda every day.
39 pounds Amount of sugar consumed over one year if you drink one soda a day.
17 teaspoons Amount of sugar in a 20-ounce serving of soda.
278 calories Increased number Americans consume each day compared with 30 years ago.
43 percent Share of new calories attributable to soda.
Source: "Bubbling Over: Soda Consumption and Its Link to Obesity in California" by UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy
E-mail Heather Knight at email@example.com