by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Taxes

Nov 9 2016

Savor the moment while it lasts: soda taxes pass!

The results, now almost final, look like this:

Soda tax votes in California:

  • San Francisco, CA, Measure V, 1 cent/oz: 62%
  • Oakland, CA, Measure HH, 1 cent/oz:       61%
  • Albany, CA, Measure 01, 1 cent/oz:          71%

And

capture

Recall what this cost, and then some:

Next?  Fingers crossed.

But at least this.

Oct 12 2016

WHO takes action against sugary drinks, urges taxes

The World Health Organization took two actions yesterday to encourage people to cut down on consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

It issued a report urging national governments to consider taxes: “Taxes on sugary drinks: Why do it?  

Governments can take a number of actions to improve availability and access to healthy foods and have a positive influence on the food people choose to consume. A major action for comprehensive programmes aimed at reducing consumption of sugars is taxation of sugary drinks. Just as taxing tobacco helps to reduce tobacco use, taxing sugary drinks can help reduce consumption of sugars.

It defines sugar drinks as products that contain added sugar, corn or fruit-juice concentrates and include carbonates, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy and vitamin water drinks, sweetened iced tea, and lemonade.

It also took immediate action to remove sugary drinks from its Geneva headquarters

The agency explained this action:

The move signifies how seriously WHO is taking its leadership role in implementing policies to improve public health…By implementing this policy WHO is setting a positive example for Member States, other organizations and visitors…WHO vending machines, restaurants and coffee shops will continue to sell water, fizzy water, and unflavoured milks with different fat contents, teas and coffees, and beverages with non-sugar sweeteners (such as diet and zero calorie drinks). Sugar packets for use with tea and coffee will continue to be served.

These actions are getting plenty of attention.

The Guardian pointed out that:

Battle lines are being drawn in Colombia, where a consumer movement is pressing the case for a sugary drinks tax and the industry is fighting back…Last month, the Asociación Educar Consumidores – the consumer organisation which, like its Mexican equivalent, has backing from Bloomberg Philanthropies in the US – produced an educational video to be broadcast on television, warning that drinking too many sugary drinks can lead to diabetes and other diseases.

But after a complaint from Postobón, the Colombian beverage giant, the government’s regulatory agency charged with consumer protection banned any showing of the video on TV, saying it was inaccurate and could confuse the public.

Michael Bloomberg, now a global ambassador for WHO issued a statement.

A growing number of cities and countries – including Mexico – are showing that taxes on sugary drinks are effective at driving down consumption. The World Health Organization report released today can help these effective policies spread to more places around the world, and that will help save many lives.

The International Council of Beverages Associations (ICBA) issued a statement:

ICBA is disappointed that this technical committee’s report advocates the discriminatory taxation solely of certain beverages as a ‘solution’ to the very real and complex challenge of obesity. We strongly disagree with the committee’s recommendation to tax beverages, as it is an unproven idea that has not been shown to improve public health based on global experiences to date.

Healthy Food America says the soda industry has spent $30 million to fight soda taxes, just this year.

WHO has just given its blessing to soda taxes.  Will countries respond?  How much more is the soda industry willing to spend to stop taxes?

Stay tuned.

Other accounts:

Aug 29 2016

Yes! The Berkeley soda tax is doing what it is supposed to

Jennifer Falbe and other investigators from Kristin Madson’s group at UC Berkeley have just produced an analysis of the effects of the Berkeley soda tax on consumption patterns.

They surveyed people in low-income communities before and after the tax went into effect.  The result: an overall 21% decline in reported soda consumption in low-income Berkeley neighborhoods versus a 4% increase in equivalent neighborhoods in Oakland and San Francisco.

The Los Angeles Times breaks out these figures: 

In Oakland and San Francisco, which have not yet passed a tax, sales of regular sodas went up by 10%.

Other findings, as reported by Healthy Food America:

  • During one of the hottest summers on record, Berkeley residents reported drinking 63 percent more bottled water, while comparison cities saw increases of just 19 percent.
  • Only 2 percent of those surveyed reported crossing city lines to avoid the tax.
  • The biggest drops came in consumption of soda (26%) and sports drinks (36%).

Agricultural economist Parke Wilde at Tufts views this study as empirical evidence for the benefits of taxes.  He writes on his US Food Policy blog that it’s time for his ag econ colleagues to take the benefits of taxes seriously:

There is a long tradition in my profession of doubting the potential impact of such taxes…Oklahoma State University economist Jayson Lusk, who also is president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), has blogged several times about soda taxes, agreeing with most of the Tamar Haspel column  in the Washington Post, and concluding stridently: “I’m sorry, but if my choice is between nothing and a policy that is paternalistic, regressive, will create economic distortions and deadweight loss, and is unlikely to have any significant effects on public health, I choose nothing” (emphasis added).

Wilde points out that Lusk has now modified those comments in a blog post.

All that said, I’m more than willing to accept the finding that the Berkeley city soda tax caused soda consumption to fall. The much more difficult question is: are Berkeley residents better off?

Yes, they are.

The Berkeley study is good news and a cheery start to the week.  Have a good one.

Addition

Politico adds up the “piles of cash” being spent on the soda tax votes in San Francisco, Oakland, and Alameda and analyzes the soda industry’s framing of the tax as a “grocery tax.”

Jul 20 2016

How did Philadelphia pass a soda tax?

I’m at the Summer Academy in Global Food Law and Policy in Getxo, Spain speaking about Soda Politics and was happy to see Healthy Food America’s analyses of how Philadelphia passed a soda tax.

Jim Krieger starts out with a reminder that all cities are different and all politics is local, but in this case Philadelphia did an outstanding job on the

  • Political path: a budget proposal to be passed by the City Council
  • Timing: end of budget speech while still a new mayor
  • Framing: source of revenue to fund pre-K
  • Community base: a coalition
  • Financial support: Bloomberg and Arnold foundations
  • Media buzz
  • An effective champion in Mayor Jim Kenney  

All of these are essential elements in any advocacy campaign.

Casey Hinds, also of Healthy Food America, focuses on why Mayor Kenney’s messaging was so effective.  She quotes from his

This last interview is particularly inspiring.  He knew what he was doing, and why.

KENNEY: It never was a grocery tax. From my perspective and my opinion, their miscalculation is that they thought the people were stupid and that they would totally eat the idea of a grocery tax. In the end, diet [beverages] became part of it because it was part of the negotiation to get us the nine votes or the 13 votes we needed. It was always about sugar-sweetened beverages. It was never about anything else. I think people recognize that this was a way to generate significant revenue without raising their real estate taxes, without raising their wage taxes, without raising business taxes, because those are all the taxes that we’ve always [used] to fund education.

…BOTTEMILLER EVICH: So when the other cities, states, call you, what are you going to tell local officials about going down this road?

KENNEY: Tie it to initiatives that the public wants. Build a coalition around those initiatives. And just continue to grow the coalition and don’t worry about the big money. It’s clear now that the big money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

We need more politicians like this.

Jun 16 2016

Today’s big news: the Philadelphia soda tax vote

The Philadelphia city council votes sometime today on whether to pass a soda tax, with most—but not all—of the revenues targeted to pre-kindergarten education.  I’m getting on an airplane pretty soon and will miss the vote, but it is widely assumed to pass.

The decision is up to the city council.  Although the soda industry spent more than $4 million on public relations to urge the council to vote no, and promised to fund the first year of pre-K, its efforts don’t seem to be working.

To put this in context: Sodas are an easy target for public health measures.  Nobody needs them, they are candy in liquid form, and they have no nutritional value.   But it seems as though their makers are willing to spare no expense to stop any city that attempts to tax them.  The total in Philly is $4.9 million by the latest rumors.

Americans are highly likely to support taxes that are earmarked for social purposes, as the Philly tax mostly is.

Every other city council can see that Berkeley gets more than a million a year for discretionary child health programs.  Philadelphia is a bigger city and will get more, but is using it to fill budget holes as well as Pre-K.  I’m guessing lots of places will figure out that they can do this too.

At the very least, the soda industry will be willing to donate huge amounts of money to get city councils to delay or block measure, as it did in Philadelphia.

This vote is worth watching closely (you can do that here).  I’m sorry to be missing it but will try to catch up with it later.

References

Politico’s deep dive is here.

 

Apr 26 2016

Soda Politics gets Presidential: Sanders v. Clinton on soda taxes

Talk about soda politics! I can hardly believe it but soda taxes have become an issue in the Democratic primary campaign.

This started when Hillary Clinton came out in favor of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed soda tax.

I’m very supportive of the mayor’s proposal to tax soda to get universal pre-school for kids. I mean, we need universal pre-school. And if that’s a way to do it, that’s how we should do it.

Given the Clinton Foundation’s long-standing relationship with Coca-Cola, this was unexpected.

In short order, Bernie Sanders distanced himself from her position:

I do not support Mayor Kenney’s plan to pay for this program with a regressive grocery tax that would disproportionately affect low-income and middle-class Americans. I was especially surprised to hear Hillary Clinton say that she is “very supportive” of this proposal. Secretary Clinton has vowed not to raises taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 per year. For reasons that are not clear, she has chosen to abandon her pledge by embracing a tax that targets the poor and the middle class while going easy on the wealthy. That approach is wrong for Philadelphia, and wrong for the country.

This, in turn, induced Paul Krugman, who seems to have little love for Sanders anyway, to weigh in:

It does seem worth pointing out that progressivity of taxes is not the most important thing, even when your concern is inequality. Notably, Nordic countries — very much including Denmark, which Sanders has praised as a model — rely heavily on the VAT, which is a regressive tax; but they use that revenue to pay for a strong social safety net, which is much more important.

If we add in the reality that heavy soda consumption really is destructive, with the consequences falling most heavily on low-income children, I’d say that Sanders is very much on the wrong side here. In fact, I very much doubt that he’d be raising the issue at all if he weren’t still hoping to pull off some kind of political Hail Mary pass.

Soda tax proponents wish that Sanders had better understanding of the health issues.

Proponents say Diabetes is regressive.

Here’s information from the table from Soda Politics on framing the soda-tax debate (see page 385).

OPPONENTS SAY ADVOCATES SAY
Taxes are a blunt instrument of government intervention. Taxes can encourage healthier food choices while generating needed revenue.
No compelling evidence links sodas to obesity or other health problems. Research sponsored by independent agencies, not soda companies, clearly links soda consumption to overweight and poor health.
Soda taxes are regressive. They disproportionately hurt poor people. Diabetes is regressive. Obesity and diabetes disproportionately hurt poor people.
Governments should stay out of personal choice. Governments should protect the health of citizens.
Soda choice is a matter of personal responsibility. Taxpayers fund health care costs. Obesity and diabetes are matters of social responsibility.
Soda companies are already making healthful changes to their products. Soda companies heavily market sugary beverages.
Soda sales have declined while obesity rates remain high; Sodas cannot be responsible for obesity. Obesity rates are stabilizing as soda sales decline. Sales of some other sweetened beverages are increasing. All should be taxed.
Sodas are not cigarettes or alcohol; They do not cause the same level of harm. The health effects of sodas increase health care costs for everyone.
Soda taxes lead to unintended consequences; Decreases in consumption will be offset by other sources of calories. Cigarette taxes decreased smoking; Let’s try taxing sodas and see whether it works.
Everyone opposes nanny-state soda taxes. Soda taxes linked to health programs have strong bipartisan support from public health organizations, city officials, and policy centers.
Apr 5 2016

Berkeley vs. Big Soda: The Video

Watch the Ecology Center’s video: Berkeley vs. Big Soda, and learn how Berkeley voters won a soda tax.

The blurb says “This tells the story of how a community stood up for children’s health against one of the world’s most powerful industries – and won.   See: www.BerkeleyVsBigSoda.com.”

Yes you can do this at home.  Do it in your town!

 

Mar 24 2016

Beverage Daily’s Special Edition: Calorie-Cutting Initiatiatives

One of the newsletters I subscribe to, BeverageDaily.com, has a special edition—a collection of its articles—on what the industry is doing to address its biggest problem: reducing sugar.

What is the beverage industry doing to cut calories?

Health and wellness is at the forefront of consumers’ minds, and sugar gets plenty of bad press. Obesity is as big a concern as ever, and soft drinks are in the firing line.

What is the beverage industry doing to reduce calories? How are market leaders reformulating and revamping their portfolios; and what healthier brands are appearing?

From alternative sweeteners to packaging sizes, we look at what the industry is doing to cut calories – and how well these initiatives are working.

From reformulation to nutritional labeling, the non-alcoholic beverage industry has adopted a variety of strategies to reduce the calorie content of drinks. We look at how different strategies from around the world are being implemented. .. Read

You can see why the industry has a problem.  Sugar tastes good.  These other things not so much.

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