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Berkeley To Place Soda Tax Measure On November Ballot

BERKELEY (CBS SF)— The Berkeley City Council has voted unanimously to place a one-cent-per ounce soda tax measure on the November ballot.

If it's approved, the measure would place a general tax on sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks sold in Berkeley and use the proceeds to fund programs that promote good nutrition.

No U.S. city currently taxes sugary drinks, but San Francisco is considering putting a similar measure on the November ballot.

A proposed soda tax in Richmond was rejected by voters in that East Bay city in 2012.

Supporters of the measure say consumption of sugary beverages has been tied to diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems. They say sugar consumed in liquid form is thought to be particularly harmful, as the quick sugar spikes put a strain on the body.

Advocates for the measure hope the tax will deter adults and children from buying as many sugary drinks.

The tax would affect businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $100,000.

The measure exempts sweeteners such as sugar, honey and syrups that are used by consumers and distributed to grocery stores, drinks and sweeteners distributed to "very small" retailers and diet drinks, milk products, 100 percent juice, baby formula, alcohol or drinks taken for medical reasons.

Amy Kiser of the Ecology Center, a Berkeley-based health and environmental organization that backs the measure, said today that her organization believes that a soda tax is "a social justice issue" because the beverage industry spends millions of dollars to target children, low-income people, blacks and Latinos with advertising aimed at getting them to drink sodas.

Kiser said soda consumption is decreasing among some groups of the population but it's increasing among low-income people and minorities.

Kiser also said the Ecology Center believes that the fight against soda drink is similar to the fight against tobacco in that medical studies are illustrating the health hazards of sugary drinks, just as studies showed the health hazards of tobacco.

At the City Council meeting on Tuesday night, City Councilman Max Anderson said he also sees parallels between beverage and tobacco companies because he believes they engage in "flagrant disregard of the public's health" in their quest for profits.

Ted Mundorff, the chief executive of Landmark Theaters, which has two theatres in Berkeley, told the council that he opposes the soda tax because the money will go to the city's general fund, not to educate people about the dangers of drinking soda.

"The money is not earmarked to do anything but to hurt business," Mundorff said.

Jennifer Skidmore of J&J Vending Inc. of Union City said her family's company already pays a lot of taxes in Berkeley, such as a plastic cup tax and a carbonated drink tax, and an additional 20-cent tax for 20-ounce drinks would be "quite a bit."

Skidmore told the council, "Obesity is a big issue but I'm not sure that taxation is the best way to deal with it" and, "I think you're making soda a scapegoat for a much larger issue."

She said purchases of soda drinks "already are on the decline without a tax."

After the council voted to place the tax on the November ballot, Mayor Tom Bates said, "This is the beginning, not the end" because he expects that the beverage industry will strongly oppose the measure.

Bates said, "There's going to be lots of misinformation and lies and the industry will go door-to-door to spread distortions and misinformation."

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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