Commentary: Soda Tax a Modest Proposal to Fund Nutritional Programs For Low Income Children

SodaTaxOn Monday, I floated what I thought was a relatively modest proposal – a one-cent sales tax on sugary drinks. In November, such a tax passed with three-quarters of the vote.

To explain, this was my floating of an idea that could serve as a funding mechanism for what I consider to be a very serious health problem – childhood obesity. In these tough times, funding is scarce and finding creative ways to finance important undertakings is in desperate need. Personally, I think the soda tax is going to have some legs, but at this point it was really me pushing it.

In highlighting the issue I quoted from the Time Magazine article which stated, “Proponents of the measure say the tax will curb the consumption of sodas, energy drinks and sweetened teas which are contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic and Type 2 diabetes. Harvard researchers found in a 2013 study that increasing the price of a 20 oz. soda by 20 cents led to a 16% sales drop.”

I see it differently, again as a funding mechanism by which we might be able to finance more nutritious school breakfasts and some health programs that might be able to help low income people make better choices, especially for their children.

I thought this was a modest enough proposal that people on the left and the right could get behind it. As someone pointed out to me – I’m probably the one person in this city who would be most affected by a soda tax, as I drink an inordinately large amount of soda. So it’s not like I’m floating a tax that would have no impact on me.

Still, I find the comments interesting. For instance, one reader said, “That didn’t take long. The suggested better beverage default at restaurants has turned into a tax proposal.”

In a way, I guess that’s true, although it was strictly my doing. As I said prior to yesterday, there was no proposal for a soda tax. However, that might change.

Then there’s this slippery slope argument. As one person wrote, where do you draw the line? “There are all kinds of foods that fall under unhealthy food choices.  Should we start taxing all foods that some liberal decides is bad for us?”

I don’t see that as a slippery slope for a number of reasons. First, even in places like Davis, it is hard to impose new taxes. Most taxes require a vote of the people. Some require a two-thirds vote. They are long and cumbersome processes to implement.

Second, governmental resources have become scarce. Part of the reason I have pushed back so hard on employee compensation is that it becomes a hindrance to being able to fund the type of programs that I think we actually need. Employee compensation not only diverts a huge amount of money to an existing group of employees, but it raises the costs of new programs, new development, new infrastructure – everything.

My point here is that we need to push back on both sides. I’m perfectly willing to hold the line on employee compensation, but we when we identify clear needs – and childhood obesity and the health implications that go with it are clear needs – we need to be creative in identifying funding mechanisms.

A couple-cent tax on soda, even for someone like me who drinks a lot of soda and doesn’t have a lot of money to begin with, is not going to be a huge burden.

Where do we draw the line? I don’t see lines to be drawn. The calculus is simple: identified need, identified funding mechanism, willingness of the voters to support both the proposed solution to the need and to pay the tax. The line gets drawn at the point where the public says no.

Finally, I want to address the libertarian argument that was raised by Frankly. He said, “My libertarian brain cells are in conflict with my food snobbery brain cells. But my libertarian brain cells are winning and repeating the same practical point to… stop banning and taxing and criminalizing things that: 1. Only harm the person using them; 2. Don’t cause enough real harm in consideration of the alternatives; 3. Are simply personal preference and a manifestation of the freedoms this country was founded on.”

First, I actually agree with most of this point. Although, my preferred solution to the war on drugs is to legalize drugs, regulate them and tax them. As such, I don’t believe in using taxation as a mechanism to get people to stop engaging in a behavior. What I believe in using taxation to do is to fund programs that are needed and carve out funding streams from behaviors that are discretionary.


If everyone who reads this post could pledge just $10 per month, we would meet all financial goals for 2015 and the Vanguard would be fully fiscally viable

As such, a fast-food tax might be an interesting way to fund health initiatives, as well. But we are not there yet, at least right now.

What I see is the need for the city, county, and school district to work together to create a healthier array of choices for vulnerable, low income students. As I have noted, the sugary breakfasts that the schools offer low income students are a huge problem.

Not just a health problem either. What one person told me is that students, who sugar up in the morning, end up crashing mid-morning and becoming less productive in school. So the nutritional issues are not just health issues, they are educational issues.

Frankly cited an interesting Wall Street Journal article, noting, “The Santa Clarita Valley school systems in California lost $250,000 in cafeteria sales last year when students rejected healthier fare designed to meet new federal nutrition standards. Now the districts are trying to win back diners by hiring a chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu, the prestigious culinary school.”

That is the basis of the crunch lunch program, which I have been told has been very successful. I went to a Chamber luncheon earlier this year and the food served was basically the same food being served in the school district. It was healthy and very tasty.

That is where we need to go with breakfasts. With partnerships and possibly funding mechanisms, it might be possible to provide these breakfasts to everyone.

To me that’s just a start. I think we seriously need to address these issues and, hopefully, my pushing this will act as a catalyst for our local elected officials to start acting.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. zaqzaq

    Why not a soda tax to fund road repairs in the city?  There is no need to link the tax to a school breakfast program.  If you want to limit the soda consumed by children then ban the sale of soda to minors much like the sale of tobacco.  This would increase parental control much like R rated movies.  Why not an alcohol tax to increase the cost of alcohol?  The more costly the alcohol the less the college students can afford to bing drink.  Restricting the sale of alcohol after 11:00pm would also help.  Who really needs more booze at that hour?

      1. zaqzaq

        Any revenue that could be allocated towards the roads would be a start in the right direction.  Parcel taxes that would meet the funding requirements are not likely to pass.  Road repairs will likely require multiple funding sources so why not a soda tax?  Does anyone have any idea how much a one cent per ounce soda tax would raise?

        1. David Greenwald

          Because a soda tax would be extremely small in terms of revenue, in the tens of thousands perhaps low hundreds of thousands, and we need around $100 million or more for roads, and to create a stream to bond against. It’s not practical.

        2. hpierce

          Think Don underestimates.  Most fast food places, and some restaurants have a “free refill” policy.  More ounces, so need to go back to the counter to pay more taxes.

        3. hpierce

          Ironically, David is seeking ONLY $120/year ‘contribution’ for this blog, yet some folks find $120 per year as a “non-starter” for a parcel tax to pay for roads (or drastically bringing down other ‘un-funded liabilities’).  Compare that to the school specific taxes being paid, and yet David and other would tax the City more to fund healthier eating, and yet the school district is the only local public entity providing food directly.  Je ne comprends pas.

      2. Alan Miller

        “it’s not going to yield the kind of revenue you need for road repairs for one thing.”

        It could if you raised it high enough to encourage illegal sales of non-taxed soda in Davis, sold out of a tunnel linking Dixon to Davis.

    1. Tia Will


      I agree with some of your suggestions. I would point out that the City of Davis has made some inroads into the issue of alcohol restriction at least as regards one of our highest risk times ( Picnic Day) by limiting the times at which alcohol can be sold by bars and restaurants in town. I do not recall an outcry from the more conservative members of our community with regard to these measures. Perhaps this is because they perceived these interventions as in their own best interest in limiting the bad behavior of the inebriated students in downtown Davis much as I perceive the interventions to limit sugary beverage consumption as in all of our best interests.

      1. Alan Miller

        Ban alcohol on Thursday nights from 11:00pm and 2:00am and you kick the profit out from under some mighty Davis nightspots #cough,cough#.  The bigger the sin, the higher the profit.  Maybe we should open a bordello in town, tax sex-for-profit, and fill potholes with the proceeds.

  2. Elizabeth Bowler

    “If you want to limit the soda consumed by children then ban the sale of soda to minors much like the sale of tobacco.”


    This is along the lines of one of the policy suggestions made by UCSF pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, MD, one of the world’s leading researchers on the effect of sugar in children.  Sugar, especially HFCS, is a toxic, addicting substance and should be regulated the same way we regulate other addicting substances such as alcohol and drugs.

    1. tribeUSA

      EB–seems this would be a good idea; if we can get AMA or pediatric organization endorsement, I bet some regulation like this may have a chance of getting enacted.

      Children will still find a way to get ahold of sweets and candy; but this should cut it back, hopefully reduce the rate of future diabetes.

      How about a warning label on any product that is more than 30% sugar (by weight for dry products) or more than 1.5g/ounce for liquids: WARNING: HIGH SUGAR CONTENT. FREQUENT INGESTION MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH

      I wish the sugar content of products was highlighted in bold type–it surprised me (after I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic several years ago; 115 mg blood level) that so many common everyday foods I had thought of as non-sweet (e.g. bread, peanut butter, even microwave dinners of meat & potatoes or noodles) actually have a low to moderate amount of sugar; which is harmless for the one meal or product; but adds up to a substantial amount of sugar over the total food eaten in meals/snacks in an entire day. Makes it more difficult to cut back on total sugar intake.

      1. Elizabeth Bowler

        We absolutely need warning labels similar to those on tobacco.  I doubt, though, that warning labels will do much to change behavior and decrease consumption as they were not effective with tobacco.  What has worked with tobacco has been changing the social perception of smoking from a “cool” habit to a “filthy” habit and taxing tobacco through the roof so that it is now very expensive to smoke, and, of course, banning sales of cigarettes to minors.   I think we could benefit from all of these approaches with SSB’s as well.

        The food companies have successfully kept the “added sugar” content off food labels and they now add sugar to almost everything precisely because they know that it is addicting.


        1. tribeUSA

          EB–yes, I’d forgotton about the “added sugar” labeling; and that this labeling has disappeared.

          There is no need for peanut butter, bread, packaged meats and pastas, etc. etc. to have added sugar; but in my experience it is hard to find such products that are very low in sugar (I try to find products for which dry weight is less than 5% sugar, or less than 2g per serving). I wish such products were required to have a prominent “added sugar” label; I could quickly avoid these products and find others without sugar–I bet this would increase the demand and thus increase the proportion of such foods with no added sugars; since before I was diagnosed pre-diabetic I was unaware that such everyday foods had so much sugar (and who has time or wants to bother with reading the fine-print content of every package of food they are considering to purchase).

          So a good start would be to re-install this labeling requirement!

  3. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > I don’t believe in using taxation as a mechanism to

    > get people to stop engaging in a behavior

    But forgot to say “unless it is something I don’t like”…

    A tax or ban never stops people from “engaging in a behavior” it just makes it harder and more expensive.  Correct me if I am wrong but if a Davis High kid had $100 in cash it would not be hard to have $100 worth if cigarettes or pot by the end of the day…

    We are in an endless loop where the right tries to punish the left by banning gay marriage “to piss of the gays they hate” (saying they are trying to “defend” marriage)  then the left tries to punish the right by taxing plastic bags and soda “to piss off lazy fat conservatives they hate” (saying they are trying to “protect” the environment and kids)…

    P.S. I’m certain that Berkeley High will have just as many chubby guys and muffin top girls next year post soda tax as it has last year pre soda tax (but they will have a lot more tax money from all the Cal nerds that suck down a 12 pack of Mountain Dew every day)…

    1. David Greenwald

      “But forgot to say “unless it is something I don’t like”…”

      No. Period. I may support taxes to create funding streams, but not as a means of changing behavior.

      1. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        > No. Period. I may support taxes to create funding streams

        So how about supporting a tax that hits you like a $0.10 per comment tax on bloggers or a $1,000/per kid tax on foster parents to create the same funding stream?

        1. David Greenwald

          I just looked at your profile and for some reason you nickname is set at Bahm, and your display name at Balm. I can change it, if you’d like. No idea how it got that way.

        2. tribeUSA

          yes, that one letter changes the entire moniker ‘tude!

          I like it when people with such monikers like this contribute to blogs; but not sure would be comfortable in person talking with–I want to be able to steer clear of the fallout zone!

    2. Tia Will

      South of Davis

      A tax or ban never stops people from “engaging in a behavior” it just makes it harder and more expensive”

      You are partially correct. The ban does not stop the behavior….however, the increased difficulty and increased expense that are the direct result of the ban does change the behavior of many. This would be the same as saying the law ( meaning the words on the page) does not prevent crime, and you would be correct. But many will obey the law because they do not like the penalty imposed by that law ( namely jail).

      1. Barack Palin

        So it’s not about sugary beverages after all.  How about the people who are trying to get off sugary beverages by drinking diet sodas, are you saying that they should also be burdened with a tax?

          1. David Greenwald

            It’s about creating a funding mechanism to deal with children’s health issues. Again that’s for me.

          1. David Greenwald

            I tried to disguish between the Berkeley ordinance and my own thinking on this. Hope I clarified.

        1. Tia Will


          There is some evidence that I cannot reference this evening, but can find if someone is truly interested that switching to artificial sweeteners has its own set of problems in promoting more craving for sweets and thus is not a good substitute for sugary beverages.  If anyone is really interested, I can provide the data later. Just let me know.

        2. Elizabeth Bowler

          While some might see a tax on SSB’s primarily as a funding source, I certainly do not see it that way.  I see it as an attempt to change behavior because obesity is THE children’s health issue that must be addressed.  In fact, it is THE health issue that we face period according to the US Surgeon General and the WHO.   In order to change behavior, however, there would need to be a much higher tax on SSB’s than is currently being discussed.  More like something along the lines of the taxes on tobacco and alcohol would be necessary to have any effect on behavior.  A much more effective way to change behavior would be to regulate SSB’s the way that tobacco and alcohol are regulated and restrict or ban sales to minors for example.

        3. Barack Palin

          There is some evidence that I cannot reference this evening, but can find if someone is truly interested that switching to artificial sweeteners has its own set of problems in promoting more craving for sweets 

          My wife switched from drinking sugary sodas to diet and she’s lost a lot of weight and swears that was a big part of why it worked for her.  If you get down to it there’s so many things that are probably somewhat bad for you, do you want to tax them all?

      2. hpierce

        And, probably, unsweetened iced tea.  But hey, every one should do their part.  And also tax water, as if taken in large quantities in a short period of time, is quite “toxic”.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    I don’t buy the argument that there isn’t enough money, we don’t spend what we have efficiently. (We have new taxes, they are often disguised as “fees”, just look at your cable bill.) We also need to get to the “root causes”.

    Funds have skyrocketed for Food Stamps and other various programs under President Barack Obama. As I have previously mentioned, if we modeled food stamps after the WIC program, we could make tremendous progress. At least in the past, WIC (women infant and children) gave coupons for specific items, such as cereal, milk, and juice. You can’t buy Hungey Man TV dinners or potato chips with WIC, and it had been a highly regarded and effective program. (I haven’t read up on it recently.)

    Reduce the freedom under food stamps, require the purchase of more healthy items, and ban sugary drink purchases. No new taxes needed, win-win-win.

    On a larger issue, why are we providing more and more breakfasts for children, when they should ideally be fed by their parents? Low income is a problem for some. With many of these issues we get back to the family, specifically the lack of Fathers in the home. A related issue is the genetic father (baby daddy) who doesn’t make child support payments, and a third issue is when the mother is not required to identify who the father is at birth. This was a legal decision a few decades back, and I think we should look to revisit that, because men who impregnate women and then don’t at least take care of their financial obligation is a lose-lose-lose-lose. Further, it puts no brakes or consequences on the irresponsible behavior.

    A soda tax is regressive, I’d much prefer a broader impact by eliminating the subsidy to growing and providing high-fructose corn syrup to our food and beverage producers.

    Further, since the consumption of these SSB’s (sugar sweetened beverages) is really increasing in the Latino community, I think we need to take some steps there in education, outreach, whatever. Maybe we legislate that taquerias and taco trucks must provide free water, and water as a first option (I’ve eaten at dozens upon dozens of taquerias, and rarely is water offered). Maybe we can corral the Catholic Church into assisting us, morning drive DJs, famous soccer players, whoever.

    With an over $50-billion per year budge for the state of California, they still feed crappy food to children? It’s not a money issue, it’s a competency issue.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Just caught this article – confirming our root causes.

      Article: 65 Percent of Children Live in Households on Federal Aid Programs

      “Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of children,” said the Census Bureau, “lived in households that participated in at least one or more of the following government aid programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Medicaid, and the National School Lunch Program.”

      “How to be dependent on government is now one of the earliest life lessons America is teaching nearly a supermajority of children….”

      “The new willingness among Americans to live on government largesse is matched by another trend: disregard for marriage and traditional family life….”

      “But among children living with two married parents, only 14.0 percent were in poverty.

      “The data published in this Census Bureau study also suggests that disrespect for marriage and traditional family life is a homegrown product of the United States. Children who have at least one immigrant parent are more likely to live with two married parents.”


      1. Miwok

        If 65% of families are enrolled in Federal Programs, then would we not be going against Federal Guidelines since they should control what part of that money is spent on sugary drinks?

        I stood in line last night a half hour as I watched a patron of a local supermarket try to manage the money she had, as checks were signed and some kind of cash exchanged with meat and milk being taken away from the counter. But it was not US Money. Do they take pesos at Raley’s?

    2. David Greenwald

      You’re not distinguishing between locally available money and money at the federal level. I agree with you that Food Stamps would be better if we modeled it after WIC. But that’s again a federal decision, not a local one.

    3. Tia Will


      specifically the lack of Fathers in the home.”

      My father was not in the home. He died. I guess that my mother should have chosen a better mate right ?  But hey, wonderful to have you decide which children are worthy of support and who is not.

  5. Barack Palin

    Everyone needs to realize we’re not just talking a few pennies here.  A liter of soda has 67 oz. so you’re typical liter bottle of Coke will go from $1.99 to $2.66.  That adds up.

    1. hpierce

      You’re on to something… thought it would be limited to soft drinks sold in ‘restaurants’.  We should go for a X.X tax on ANY gram of sugar, in ANY food/drink, whether restaurant or grocery store.  Soon, refined and brown sugar would be less in demand at Nugget.  Since wine and beer derive their alcohol from the fermentation of sugar, we could tax that too!  Good call!

  6. Anon

    “I may support taxes to create funding streams, but not as a means of changing behavior.”

    So now the Vanguard is conceding all this nonsense about a soda ordinance and soda tax will not change behavior one iota.  It is all about creating funding streams.  In other words the solution to every problem is to create funding streams for programs?

      1. Miwok

        More of us would pay the Sugar Tax if it fixes the roads, not to give it to food programs, or feeding children not our own?

        As I mentioned in another post, some people have to have their own little program, when they could just contribute to a well established program already in place.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Your question seems a little awkward. Yes, there are some parents who may not be fit or able to take care of children, and we should provide for these children. We also should not encourage these irresponsible individuals to have more children, but we seem to have little appetite to do such.

          But if we continue to promote the Big Government Mommy State, we will simply have more and more children raised by a check from Washington, not by an in-the-home Father. This is a horrible idea, we are seeing the consequences … more gangs, more violence, more disrespect for young women, and more irresponsibility.

        2. Davis Progressive

          i think you’re looking at the world through your own eyes – which i get, but doesn’t help us that much.  for instance, i saw where you advocated that food stamps be treated more like wic.  i think that’s a great idea.  it’s difficult and expensive to eat healthy when you are low income.  i don’t view that as a nanny state, but rather as a structural change.  raising money to fund healthy breakfasts for kids whose choices right now is nothing or sugar, isn’t a nanny state.

        3. Barack Palin

          i think you’re looking at the world through your own eyes

          So should we look at the world through your eyes, and I guess we have to say David’s eyes too?

        4. TrueBlueDevil

          Don, did you know at some schools we also send food home with children for the weekend, because there is some concern children aren’t eating at home? I’m not sure how that is as we have an exploding obesity problem.

          Where are the parents, do we really think there are really parents siting there, watching their children starve? (I find that hard to believe in nay large numbers.) Or is the Nanny state growing, and are we adding new people and immigrants to our system who are being schooled in how to take advantage of every social program possible, for as long as possible, where we also let the “father” off the hook?

        5. Miwok

          Some of the best people I know came from broken homes. They may not have all the social graces, but they have a lot more integrity than many I know whose parents sent them to major universities. Parents are not the final factor in the equation, and I think no one wants their kid to be (insert hooligan’s name here) or dead like (insert popular criminal hero here).

    1. Tia Will


      Regardless of what the Vanguard does or does not cede, there is precedent for these types of measures being effective in lessening detrimental behaviors which I have cited, and which has been ignored by you and our other “don’t take away might Constitutional right to drink soda” posters.

      This afternoon, I was speaking to a patient who was interested in stopping her use of tobacco. She expressed interest in my take on motivation and behavioral changes that might help her in her endeavor. One of the items I mentioned was the cost and what else she could do with the money she saved by giving up smoking. Like many people, she had never done the calculation that $ 6.00/ pack x 3 weekly saves her over $800.00 /year which she can spend on her kids. From her reaction, she had clearly never seen it this way before and considered that another motivator to stop. Too often, I believe that we decide what will and will not be effective because we assume that we know how other people think. We do not. Some strategies will work to motivate some people while others will be moved only by different tactics. It is important to not assume that we know what is in other people’s minds and work on many different levels to effect change.

      1. Elizabeth Bowler

        I agree Tia, there is no question that taxes can change behavior and tobacco is an excellent example of this.  As you have noted, however, tobacco taxes far exceed the taxes that are being discussed here with SSB’s.  I doubt that adding a few cents tax onto the price of a can of soda is going to change anyone’s behavior, but if we could tax a can of soda up to say $6 a can, that might have some impact.


        1. Tia Will


          First thanks for the article link.

          I agree that a few cents will not have the kind of impact that I would like to see. I think there must be some tipping point in price where a substantial decrease would be seen.  However, just as changing tobacco use patterns required an effort using multiple modes ( negative advertising, education, increased prices, pressure on individual businesses, changing the perception of smoking from the norm to a disgusting habit) I think that a concerted effort on many fronts will also be needed to move us away from sweetened beverages. In this light, a see a small tax as one small step in the right direction.

          We are seeing in these posts the libertarian point of view. What we will see to a much greater degree if these ideas for limiting automatic defaults to addicting beverages and increasing taxes start to take hold, is major push back from the manufacturers just as happened with the tobacco companies. And just as then, we will have to be ready to promote the well being of our children on many fronts.

        2. Elizabeth Bowler

          The libertarian viewpoint was also bandied about when the tobacco debate was going on a few decades ago, fueled in large part by the tobacco companies.   But eventually science and the professional medical organization prevailed as I am sure that we will eventually prevail in this debate.  One problem I see is that the professional organizations are now funded by food companies.  For example, the American Dietetic Association lists PepsiCo and McDonalds as major sponsors.  The food companies have learned from the tobacco debate and have been very clever in plotting their strategy.

        3. South of Davis

          Tia wrote:

          > changing the perception of smoking

          > from the norm to a disgusting habit

          It would help to change the perception of fat people from the “norm” to “lazy disgusting people who will typically have lots of health problems before they die young”…

  7. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    If you really want an effective tax, it needs to be statewide. It is simply too easy to get around by making it in one city. Also, why just have it on soda and not other sweets? Would it not make more sense to have the tax on all added sugars, including honey and high fructose corn syrup?

    Were this my proposal and I wanted to make sure it would pass and wanted it to be effective in curbing the consumption of sugar, I would make it 2 cents per gram of added sugars on all food and beverages sold in California with all of the revenue going to CalSTRS until all of its $80 billion debt is retired. The teachers’ unions would then work for it to pass.

    1. Tia Will


      I agree that action on the statewide level would be much more effective. I also feel that if enough communities were to adopt their own, the idea would gain traction and we would be much more likely to be able to effect statewide action. Even a symbolic statement to open the conversation is better than no statement at all.

      1. David Greenwald

        I think the statewide is an interesting concept, but it really doesn’t address my reasoning for pushing the tax locally – to create a small funding stream to help low income kids on a multi-jurisdictional basis.

    1. Robb Davis

      Ooh this is so tempting.  If I take the bet I totally control my own destiny.  On the other hand, wouldn’t that be a bribe?  I want in on this action BP but it looks like I can’t get in.

      1. Robb Davis

        Or wait, was this your way of saying that gave David the idea (like a trial balloon).  He runs it, I gauge reaction–sort of test the waters.  Right?

        Well, I can say categorically that this is NOT what happened.  Sorry to mess with the narrative.  I hear Alan Miller (or was it Alan Pryor, or was it Alan Fernandes–I think it was an Alan) came up with the whole thing.

  8. Dave Hart

    So many red herrings on this issue by the usual suspects that it’s starting to stink pretty bad around here.  Soda should have at least a one cent tax per ounce because it is unlike cookies or any other source of empty calorie sources.  Some people, too many people especially children, drink soda like they should be drinking water with resulting health effects.  Why not tax it like any other “sin” tax where the product being purchased is absolutely unnecessary for human life and creates documentable negatives.  Locality is of little importance for the tax being evaded when much of the stuff is sold in a cup at the gas station, sandwich shop or restaurant.

    A tax should always be linked to a somewhat related issue:  tax on tobacco to fund anti-smoking campaigns, gas taxes for transportation, property taxes for local government operations (linked to locality) are examples.  When enough communities do it, the state will follow.  It’s a DAMN good idea whose time has come.  I would even support Rich Rifkin’s motion to make it 2 cents per gram but for the fact that doing anything by weight or mass is too burdensome for business. Drinks are sold by the ounce. Hey Rich, what about 2 cents per ounce for the sake of simplicity and being business friendly? We wouldn’t want it to be considered a “job-killer” bill.

    1. Anon

      Well by gosh lets put a tax on anything with fat in it; anything with sugar in it, anything with cholesterol in it.  Where does this end?  As I said before, the bag ban was the first step in the march towards big gov’t completely controlling what we can and cannot do. We predicted that a bag ban would only be the first in a long line of items to target for some sort of gov’t regulation.  Only problem is, who gets to decide what is good for everyone? Whoever happens to be in power at the time? Very slippery slope.

      1. Tia Will


        Again with the slippery slope argument. Why is it so much to ask to have you express your reasons why you believe that this particular measure would not be effective rather than to constantly beat Frankly’s “victim mentality” drum of “oh, my gosh, if they do this, what will they do next ?”  How about just trying one of the suggestions and following the data ?  Would a pilot program to see if consumption dropped with a tax be such a threat to your constitutional rights that you would oppose a carefully monitored trial ?

    2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

       Hey Rich, what about 2 cents per ounce for the sake of simplicity and being business friendly?

      I suppose that would work, too. However, listed ingredients, like sugars, are all listed in grams.

      Having said that, I did some math on a few foods with sugar added and realize my 2 cents per gram tax would be way too high.* So instead, while I am proposing taxes that the teachers’ unions would get behind, let me amend that to 1/2 cent per gram of added sugar. 

      For example, the store brand ketchup in my fridge has 2 grams of sugar per tablespoon served. The 64 oz. bottle has 106 servings. Therefore, the sugar tax, at 1/2 cents per gram, would be .5 cents x 2 x 106 = $1.06.

      At the same rate, the tax on a liter of Coke (108 g) would be 54 cents; a liter of Mountain Dew (124 g) 62 cents; or a 6 oz. Yoplait yogurt (27 g) 14 cents.

      I suspect that this sort of tax would be terribly unpopular; and there are some unavoidable problems–such as substituting untaxed sweeteners, which may be worse for one’s health–with it. However, one real upside, if the tax is tacked on and printed on a receipt, is people would start to realize just how much sugar there is in so many products. I bet most people who pour ketchup all over their food have no idea that they are putting a huge amount of sugar on their fries or their eggs or whatever. If they paid a sugar tax, they’d know it.



      *At a certain level of taxation, the excise creates an incentive for a black market. I am not sure where that would be with sugar. In the Eric Garner case in New York, the tobacco tax gave him an incentive to sell untaxed cigarettes, which was the crime he was committing when the cops choked him to death.

        1. Barack Palin

          Dave, I’m talking about the tax that Rich Rifkin threw out there where everything with sugar in it was taxed, not the soda tax. If people were getting taxed on everything from ketchup, mayonaise, crackers, soda and all things with any sugar in it you don’t think they would buy their groceries elsewhere?

        2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Rifkin: “If you really want an effective tax, it needs to be statewide.”

          Statewide means not just in Davis. It includes Woodland, too.

          Palin: “Well if the plastic bag ban didn’t send people to Woodland and other nearby cities  to shop, I’m sure a tax like this would. …”

          No, because it would be statewide.

          Palin: “I’m talking about the tax that Rich Rifkin threw out there where everything with sugar in it was taxed, not the soda tax. … don’t think they would buy their groceries elsewhere?”

          No, because it would be statewide. I don’t support a Davis sugar tax; same as I don’t support a Davis-only gas tax.

          See this.

        3. Barack Palin

          Okay, but I didn’t see “statewide” in your above post that I responded to.  I guess you’re referring to another post that I may have missed.  So yes, I get it, “statewide”.

      1. Elizabeth Bowler

        One problem with this is that “added sugar” is not disclosed on food labels, it is lumped in with “naturally occurring sugar”.  The food companies have successfully killed any attempts to change food labels in this regard.  They now add sugar to almost everything precisely because they know that it is addicting.

  9. Barack Palin

    How about Davis be the first city to have a gluten tax, or a coffee tax?  Come on David, the soda thing has already been done.  Show some ingenuity, put Davis on the map.  People already think we’re cockeyed here.

  10. Elizabeth Bowler

     If you get down to it there’s so many things that are probably somewhat bad for you, do you want to tax them all?.

    There is 1 substance that is largely causing the current health crisis.   While I don’t happen to think that taxing a can of soda by a few cents is going to solve anything, I appreciate the fact that the issue has been raised and is being discussed.

  11. Tia Will

    There seems to be an assumption coming from many who post here that all adults share the same general pool of information. I believe that Elizabeth will be able to relate to this point. It is simply not true that we all share the same general knowledge pool especially as it relates to nutrition.

    Many of my patients have no idea what constitutes a healthy diet. Countless times in discussing nutrition not as a general principle, but as what is daily consumed by my patient, I will have a variant of the  following conversation.

    Do you feel that you have a healthy diet ?  “Yes”

    What did you have for breakfast ?  “A bowl of cereal”

    Great. What kind ?  “Honey bunches of …..whatever”

    Anything to drink ?  “oh, yeah …. a carmel macchiato on my way to work.”

    How about lunch ?  “Well , I didn’t have much time  today so I went to the …. insert fast food restaurant of your choice for greasy burger or taco of your choice”

    Anything to drink ?  ” A Coke”

    Hmmm…Ok…. what’s for dinner tonight.  “Well I haven’t had time to go to the store so I was going to pick up something quick on the way home.”

    This is not an exaggeration or anything unusual. It is what I see on a daily basis. When we say that we are going to change this pattern by teaching our children how to eat better with their daily lunches, or that we are going to break addictions and life long patterns of behavior simply by educating, we are deluding ourselves. It is not possible to break the “information” provided by advertisers claiming that their heavily sweetened products are “part of a healthy breakfast” to give your kids a “great start on their day” in a five minute conversation or by handouts although I provide them.

    Those of us who see the effects of poor nutrition as a major issue not just on the individual but also on the societal level  are becoming increasingly aware that the conversation must change from “if everyone just chose to eat the way I do, we would all be fine” to how can we, as a society make a real impact in the face of relentless misinformation in the form of misleading labeling, commercials, provision of free or reduced cost products with the knowledge that the product is addictive all in the service of boosting the consumption of processed sweetened products for profit.

    It is my opinion that this will need to be addressed with multiple small steps at multiple levels, individual, school, businesses, community level actions, statewide and ultimately nationally to make  a significant change. I have hope because I have seen it happen in my lifetime with cigarette use which has plummeted due to a multi pronged approach and unrelenting determination to prevent more unnecessary and premature deaths from a known  ( but denied) carcinogen.

    In case anyone is wondering if this is personal. It is. My father died of bladder cancer, smoking causation link well established. This was in 1961.

    This same year Dr. Wakeham presented to the heads of Phillip Morris evidence that had been accumulating ( and ignored or denied) in his report conceding that smoking may be a cause of cancer and other diseases.

    For a summary of the actions of the tobacco industry in the wake of this and multiple other reports  see

    If we think that those whose profits depend on misleading the public into believing that their products are nutritious or at least harmless, will not repeat this pattern, we are again deluding ourselves. While the small steps now recommended will not in and of themselves “solve or cure the problem” their effect in aggregate can have major impact. This has been demonstrated. We have the model. We just have to be willing to engage.



    1. KSmith

      This doesn’t surprise me at all, and I routinely see well-educated parents in Davis feeding their children similar items.

      This truly is a health crisis, and I am convinced it goes back to the mid to late 70s, when high-fructose corn syrup started showing up in the vast majority of products.

      I watched _Stand by Me_ with my 15-year-old daughter last night, and the character played by Jerry O’Connell (Vern) is supposed to be “the fat kid.”  My daughter was very surprised that his character was considered so fat, and I had to explain to her that back in 1985 (or whenever it was), there was not even close to the current level of obesity.  If Jerry O’Connell’s character were transplanted into a modern-day context, he would barely register as “husky,” since we’re all accustomed now (sadly) to what basically amounts to “super-sized people.”

      I’m not sure what the answer is. I would like to see mandatory nutrition classes from elementary school, and some kind of mandatory education for people expecting children–so they can be educated in how to properly feed their children. I agree that the “you’re trampling my freedom” argument gets kind of ridiculous–especially when we consider the socialized costs of obesity (higher health-insurance premiums, public safety workers that aren’t as fit and therefore cannot perform their jobs at optimum levels, etc.).

      There also need to be more physical activity programs in the schools–or in our culture in general (but you get pushback when, for e.g., Michelle Obama tried to implement her “Let’s Move” (??) program). I like the Japanese model, where people collectively exercise and this is just part of the culture.  I’ve read somewhere that it takes about 21 days to transform an activity into a habit. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but this summer I challenged myself to put that to the test, and started riding my bike for my primary form of transportation (I ride virtually daily to and from work from West Davis to South Davis). It initially sucked, but after about a month or so, I actually started looking forward to those rides, and it is now just part of my daily routine the vast majority of the time.  And younger people would benefit even more from this kind of physical change of routine, since they could presumably hang onto it as part of their “wiring.”

      I really think parent education is the key–and this education needs to happen preferably before pregnancy, and continue throughout. Again, though, you’ll get the “personal freedom” argument, but why should someone have the right to stuff their faces with whatever they want to eat, take no responsibility for their own choices, and then pass the costs (both social, cultural, and financial) on to the rest of us? In this light, a tax on sugar sounds like a step in the right direction.

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