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Soda Taxes Pass in Four Cities, But Tobacco Votes Are Mixed


Three of the 4 cities to pass taxes on soda are in Northern California, not far from Berkeley, which passed the nation's first soda tax in 2014.

Four cities passed ballot measures to create taxes on sugary beverages, despite well-funded opposition from the soda industry.

But questions on tobacco taxes had mixed results, as voters in Missouri, Colorado, and North Dakota rejected them, while California approved an 87-cent increase.

Three of the 4 cities to pass sugary-drink taxes are in North California—San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany—where the nearby City of Berkeley passed a sugary drink tax in 2014. All 3 cities passed a 1-cent per ounce tax on sugary beverages, to be levied at the distributor.

While San Francisco failed to pass a soda tax in 2014, this time the measure passed 62% to 38%. Oakland’s tax passed 61% to 39%, while Albany’s measure passed 71% to 29%. Boulder voters, meanwhile, approved a 2-cent per ounce tax by a margin of 55% to 45%, according to published reports.

Since the Berkeley measure took effect, it has been credited with spurring a 21% decline in sugary drink consumption. Water consumption, meanwhile is up 63%, according to a study reported in October in the American Journal of Public Health. Sugar-sweetened beverages are considered one of the chief culprits in rising rates of obesity, and the World Health Organization has called for countries to levy soda taxes and rein in marketing aimed at children.

The beverage industry reportedly spent more than $37 million this year to defeat the various measures, although foundations, such as Bloomberg Philanthropies, offered aid to supporters. The industry is also suing the City of Philadelphia to overturn a 1.5-cent per ounce drink tax—which also includes diet soda—that the city council adopted this summer, which is schedule to take effect January 1, 2017.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the lessons learned in the campaigns would bear fruit in other cities and states. “The industry will continue to outspend because they can’t afford to lose,” he said. “But they have already lost: the science base is growing stronger for sugar drinks’ causation of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and tooth decay, and communities are acting.”

Tobacco Taxes

Missouri and North Dakota went into Election Day with 2 of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the country, and that didn’t change after voters defeated measures to raise them.

In North Dakota, a measure failed that would have raised cigarette taxes from 44 cents to $2.20 per pack, while raising the tax on wholesale products like liquid nicotine from 28% to 56%. The measure needed a simple majority to pass but only received 38.52% with 86% of precincts reporting.

Missouri’s ballot was more complicated, as there were 2 measures for voters to evaluate. Most of the focus was on Amendment 3, which would have increased the state’s 17-cent per pack tax by 60 cents, or 15 cents a year for 4 years. This would have raised $300 million for early childhood health and education. The proposal was caught in a standoff between larger and smaller tobacco companies and, oddly, was opposed by public health groups. It failed 59% to 41%.

A separate measure, Proposition A, would have gradually added 23 cents per pack through the 2021. It failed with 45% of the vote. Had both measures passed, the one with more votes would have taken effect.

Colorado didn’t have a rock-bottom tobacco tax, and its measure to add $1.75 per pack, bringing the total tax to $2.59, did not pass. California, meanwhile, successfully added 87 cents to its $2 per pack tax, which is expected to raise at least $1 billion for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, cigarette taxes are considered one of the most effective tools to deter people from smoking, and are considered key to preventing youth from starting smoking. The average tax per pack is $1.65.

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