by Marion Nestle
May 3 2016

How much is the soda industry spending to defeat public health?

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mike Newall says the beverage industry is spending a lot of money (“flowing like a Big Gulp”) to defeat the City Council’s soda tax initiative—$2.6 million so far (but see footnote below).

Here’s the catch – this time around, the beverage barons only have to win over City Council. There are 17 Council members, so that comes out to about $152,000 in ad dollars each.

Philadelphia is a battleground Big Soda cannot afford to lose.

The soda industry spent more than $10 million to fight soda tax measures in San Francisco (the industry succeeded) and in Berkeley (the industry lost—76% of voters were for the tax).

But what I really want to know is how much the soda industry spent to defeat Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to cap the sizes of sugary beverages at 16 ounces.  I live in New York City and here’s what I saw the industry do or heard about (much of this is documented in my book, Soda Politics, and in former NYC Health Commissioner Tom Farley’s Saving Gotham; Farley is now health commissioner in Philadelphia):

  • Three full-page ads in the New York Times
  • Signs on Coke and Pepsi delivery trucks
  • A personal mailing to my home
  • Tee shirts: “I picked out my beverage all by myself”
  • People collecting signatures on petitions against the proposal (they said they were paid $30/hour)
  • Airplane banners
  • Movie trailers
  • Video ads
  • Meetings with city officials
  • Legal challenges—briefs, court appearances

This was not an election so the soda industry did not have to disclose how much it spent.  But I sure would like to know.

Footnote: Jim O’Hara of Center for Science in the Public Interest reminds me that he wrote a report last year about the amount of money spent by the soda industry to fight public health measures.  You can find it here.  By his count, the industry spent ~$15 million just in New York between 2010 and 2015, but I’m guessing this doesn’t count the soda cap legal fees.