Monday Morning Thoughts II: The Flip-Flopping Epidemic on Soda Tax

SodaTax

Last week we showed strong evidence that Mayor Dan Wolk had changed his tune on the soda tax, which went from being part of his agenda on children’s health issues to being a distraction from the city focusing on infrastructure needs.

But it turns out that Dan Wolk is not alone in changing his tune. Columnist Bob Dunning in his December 8 column notes that a soda tax could be on the ballot and makes reference to “the local Food Police.”

He writes, “Education is one thing, but apparently if it’s combined with punishment, it’s much more effective.”

But then he adds, “Still, given that we don’t have a dog in this fight and perhaps there’s a chance the city will use that $2 million windfall to add a few much-needed crosswalks in the neighborhood to help our kids get safely to school, we might end up selfishly voting for this tax after all. What the heck, I might even campaign for it.”

Ten days later, he is making mocking and mean-spirited reference to Tia Will. He references her comment “I am a Coke addict,” but actually misquotes her because she actually stated, “I am a recovering Coke addict.”

The next part of his column states that “given that proponents keep talking about how much cash the soda tax will generate each year, it’s clear this is more about revenue creation than public health.”

That is certainly not the gist of the comments I got from sitting down with Dr. Harold Goldstein.

Mr. Dunning writes, “Davis does not lack for recreational options for overweight children … there are plenty of activities, organized and otherwise, for kids to get out and exercise.”Soda Tax Timeline

He concludes the section stating, “All the soda taxes in the world can’t take the place of parental responsibility and oversight … let’s face it, kids shouldn’t be drinking soda pop … but unless they get that message from their parents or guardians, a tax won’t be the cure-all its proponents claim it will be …”

Once again, Mr. Dunning seems to have a blind spot for the absolute epidemic of obesity and diabetes for low income children, whose parents may not have education to impart that level of responsibility and oversight.

But, more to the point, his position has clearly changed over the course of ten days from the point where he was mocking the idea but willing to support it – even campaign for it, if it ended up going to “much-needed crosswalks in the neighborhood to help our kids get safely to school.”

One of the questions that I think we have to start asking is about the proliferation of money. We want to believe that people take up positions based on honest differences of opinion rather than because they were paid to say what they did.

On the other hand, as one person pointed out to the Vanguard, if they can spend $100,000 now instead of $2 million during a soda tax campaign, why wouldn’t they try to do that? Both the Vanguard and the Enterprise are running paid ads from the beverage industry. Nothing wrong with that.

But when we start hearing that the beverage industry may have caused the mayor to flip from his signature issue based on the threat that they would fund his opposition in his assembly election, we start to get concerned about the influence of money here.

This is certainly a situation that bears watching.

—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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55 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    Both the Vanguard and the Enterprise are running paid ads from the beverage industry. Nothing wrong with that.”

    Here is a point of disagreement that David and I have encountered. I do believe that there is something wrong with the Vanguard and the Enterprise running paid ads from the beverage industry.

    Information is powerful. Education is powerful. But there are many people, children being the prime examples, who have not yet developed the critical thinking skills to discern the difference between propaganda designed to get them to either not be aware of, or to trivialize the harmful aspects of a substance while being seduced by the “fun, warm, cozy, homey feelings that are used to sell these products and factual information. When we allow one side of an issue to saturate our environment with their message knowing that the other side has no such resources to put out their message, we are in effect, weighing in on the side with the deeper pockets.

    Yes, it matters what the politicians choose to do. I believe that it also matters what the media chooses to do and what individuals in our community choose to do. I do not believe that either side should attempt to “silence” as in Mr. Dunnng’s piece or drown out as in the case of saturation marketing, the voice of the other side.

    1. PhillipColeman

      I’d welcome additional argument that shows where the “wrong” can be right. The suggested solution seems far more wrong if I following this thought accurately.

      Assuredly, the Vanguard would also accept paid advertisements from supporters of the soda tax. The Vanguard is a free enterprise system, which incurs debt as part of the operation and needs ongoing funding to continue to exist. Supporters of the soda tax are depicted as not being able to compete financially with opponents. Therefore, in the name of balance and fairness, the Vanguard has two choices: It must refuse any advertising that is politically motivated, or publish ads for both sides in the name of fairness and balance.

      Continuing this logic thread, if proponents for a political measure are destitute or poorly funded, the publisher should post the ads anyway and absorb the additional debt in doing so.

       

  2. Davis Progressive

    the key question is who is influencing who here.  clearly dunning switched his stance albeit subtly.  clearly wolk switched his stand more abruptly.  is dunning taking his lead from the wolk machine or from the beverage industry.  the former seems a lot more likely.  but if they are really throwing $100,000 around the community, perhaps all bets are off.

      1. Miwok

        How are they going to tax it? What I got from the “advertisers” was that some things are covered with as much or more sugar in them as others, but is not spelled out, at least in Mexico. Then the Government gets to promise things yet not deliver them.

        What about people who go to a soda fountain, pay, then go back for a refill? OR is this only for bottles or cans? Why not tax sugar in food?

        1. Miwok

          DP,

          In Mexico? or here? The “advertiser” showed retailers “deciding what to charge and for which items”? Does the Berkeley tax do it that way? Funny how it was explained as being shot down in a dozen different places until Berkeley passed it. A bad idea always seems to be foisted around until someone in California changes it enough to pass it. tax, tax, tax…Thought we already paid sales tax.. Why not just estimate the amount of sales tax for sugar and appropriate it?

  3. hpierce

    let it rest between us… it is not important whether I believe in “power politics”… I do not challenge your viewpoint… but, am not convinced, and that [my view] really doesn’t matter in the real world.

  4. LCrane

    Let’s be clear about something. Harold Goldstein is a Ph.D. in public health. He’s not a medical doctor. We are having a health debate in a city with an outstanding university. Where are the real health experts from UCD? Why don’t they weigh in?

    1. Davis Progressive

      assuming what you say is true, why is a phd in public health not a “real health expert” – aren’t they studying and researching public health policies?

      1. LCrane

        You don’t have to “assume” it’s true, look it up. I’d rather hear from an M.D. who treats patients who are obese or diabetic than from someone who studies public policies. It’s not the same. I wouldn’t seek a diagnosis and treatment from a Ph.D., would you?

        1. Robb Davis

          You do realize that most of the people doing the fundamental research on the issues of obesity, fatty liver disease and diabetes are PhDs, not MDs.  They are not studying “public policy” but their research has clear public policy implications.  That is the whole point of that hated concept of “public health”: it is a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with health that transcends the individual to consider populations at risk and what can be done to improve overall community health.

          Of course one does not seek treatment from a PhD.  However, one does not seek a wholistic perspective on population health from an MD.

          And BTW, major “public health” (that hated phrase) improvements that have happened during our lifetime (for those 35-100) came about as a result of wholistic approaches to health in which PhDs, nurses, MDs and policy makers came together to solve problems. Think cholera, AIDS, malaria, child nutrition, child survival, maternal health, family planning… and the list goes on and on and on.  The idea that only MDs can make a call on this is ludicrous.

        2. LCrane

          Rob, that doesn’t explain why the city council isn’t ALSO asking medical experts who treat people with obesity and diabetes to give their perspective about whether or not a tax on soft drinks (and juice, which has a lot of sugar) is going to make a dent in the problem. I would like to know if their patients’ diseases are as simple as a can of soda (or juice!) or if the diseases are more complex. I suspect they are more complex and that a soda tax is a classic misdirection away from the real problem of improving health. In other words, the tax isn’t about public health, it’s about generating revenue. Cities need to generate revenue, but is this tax the best way to do it? Will it yield the amount of money necessary to address the problems our city faces? (Like better roads.) I hope the city council continues the conversation and invites MDs with expert experience in treating the people this tax claims to be saving. Let’s add diversity to the debate. We’ve heard from a local Ph.D., now let’s hear from a local MD.

        3. Davis Progressive

          “that doesn’t explain why the city council isn’t asking medical experts who treat people with obesity and diabetes to give their perspective about whether or not a tax on soft drinks (and juice, which has a lot of sugar) is going to make a dent in the problem.”

          you’re actually negating your own argument here – a medical doctor isn’t going to know the first thing about whether a sugar tax is going to make a dent in the problem, you need someone who actually researches those kinds of issues to weigh in, not a doctor who treats people with diabetes.

  5. Dave Hart

    It’s beyond me why anyone takes Bob Dunning’s opinion on public policy issues seriously.  His opinion pieces, when they deal with actual serious public policy questions, are two-dimensional, black-and-white level analysis.

    It’s important for the entire CC to be on board with this measure if it is to be successful in an election.  Such was the case in Berkeley, where soda industry spending was 20 to 1, yet with strong public support, the tax passed with a 78% vote!  On the one hand is the notion that a 16-ounce soda currently priced at $1.50 and increasing to $1.75 would even be noticed by consumers or cut into retail sales while on the other hand such a tame issue can generate a political panic says a lot about the paper-thin quality of political leadership from Dan Wolk I’m sad to say.  How would he vote on really tough issues? The basic question is not about “rights” to eat crap, it’s about our community modeling good behavior especially for the young. Sugary drinks are not a good idea. Neither is alcohol (though I love a good bourbon) but it’s my decision.

    1. Michelle Millet

      I think you are right, we would probably need the entire council behind this in order for it to have a chance.  Unfortunately I think this particular council, with Robb Davis being the exception, is too easily scared by public opinion to get consensus on an issue that has this much big money behind it, especially during an election season.

    2. Davis Progressive

      dh – we take dunning seriously because he gets five columns a week and has a swath of devoted followers.  still believe he was critical taking down covell village.  believe he was critical in the defeat of the water rates last year.  hye was almost able to take down the water project itself and nearly took down a parcel tax.  to name a few.

      1. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

        It was the ground work that took down Covell Village. Sure Dunning and his weekly writings helped, but it was the ground campaign led by Dick Livingston, Ken Wagstaff, and Brett Lee that led to the biggest upset of all time in Davis.

         

    3. LCrane

      If we want to model good behavior for the young, parents and relatives should stop drinking sugary drinks and stop eating high-sodium snacks with saturated fat. Parents are the best models for kids. In my experience, kids whose parents have good diets tend to grow out of their junk food phase and make better decisions as adults.

      1. Barack Palin

        Such was the case in Berkeley, where soda industry spending was 20 to 1, yet with strong public support, the tax passed with a 78% vote! 

        Notice how conveniently the fact was left out that San Francisco voted down a soda tax.  Yes folks, even loony SF isn’t as whacko as Bezerkeley and hopefully we in Davis aren’t either.

        1. Barack Palin

          Also the beverage industry pumped $9 million into the campaign to defeat it, I notice you didn’t mention that either.

          Says the man with a beverage industry ad on the top of his blog.

  6. Eric Gelber

    But when we start hearing that the beverage industry may have caused the mayor to flip from his signature issue based on the threat that they would fund his opposition in his assembly election, we start to get concerned about the influence of money here.

    “Start hearing” from whom? “May have caused” is speculative. At this point, it appears that the bases for the expressed concern are unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo.

  7. Barack Palin

    Notice to City Council, we just need you to manage the city and its finances and not try and social engineer.  I’m pretty sure all of us as citizens of Davis will be happy if you can just take care of that.  We don’t need Davis to be a guinea pig and lead the way with all of your experimental ideals.

    1. Robb Davis

      Thanks for the “notice” BP.  I have spent 90% of my time on the stuff you call out.  I am not a social engineer nor do I seek to be one.  Your disdain for public health interventions is shocking to me because you and I both benefit from the commitment of public health professionals of days gone by in so many ways.

      What you are seeing in Davis is an attempt to join a movement that WILL bring change to deal with the (arguably) number one public health crisis in our nation.  You want to reduce health care costs I am sure.  You want a healthier community I am sure.  This how it gets done.  I totally reject your notion and will keep working for improved community health for the remainder of my 2.5 years on this City Council.

      1. Barack Palin

        What you are seeing in Davis is an attempt to join a movement 

        What movement?   I can only find one other city that has a soda tax.  Why would we want to strive to be like Bezerkeley?

        1. Robb Davis

          BP you are oblivious to what is happening nationally. Your obtuseness is willful and deliberate.

          Answer me this: what is your narrative about how major public health advances from which you have benefitted have emerged?  Choose one: from improved water supply, to safer work conditions, to the conquest of smallpox, to the steep reduction in HIV transmission, to reductions in malaria transmission… How, according to you, have these massive changes come about? By chance? By divine intervention? By government fiat? Because individuals made personal decisions?

          You have no answer, I warrant, because you willfully ignore how change occurs. You lambast me for seeking to create a space for change that includes Davis, but you offer no vision for change.

           

      2. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

        Thank you for the work you and council do Robb Davis (and in your personal, professional life).  This is such an important issue If you look at the numbers in Yolo County, especially those on the lower socioeconomic end, you will see alarming numbers. Thank you for your work. Please know it does not go without gratitude and appreciation.

    2. hpierce

      Am thinking ~ 5-10% of Davisites would love to “social engineer” … the vast majority just want to raise their families, live their lives.  Guess who shows up @ CC meetings, writes ‘letters to the editor’, posts here?

      1. Barack Palin

        Am thinking ~ 5-10% of Davisites would love to “social engineer”

        Unfortunately because that 5-10% are always the most outspoken they seem to get listened to more.   The others, the silent majority, just want to raise their families, live their lives (as Hpierce stated) and for the most part just be left alone.

        1. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

          If the “silent majority” is complacent and happy with being silent then they will continue to get the outcome they get.  There really is no proof that their “silent” voices are “the majority” if they are silent.  Just saying….

  8. Tia Will

    BP

    The others, the silent majority, just want to raise their families, live their lives (as Hpierce stated) and for the most part just be left alone.”

    And they want to do it in a clean environment, with all of the health advances that Robb mentioned, and without paying excessively for health care costs. Will these people who are according to you oblivious, or just want to be left alone,  have all of the above if someone does not step and take the steps to make these expectations happen. I presume that these same people would prefer not to die of an infectious disease, or from tainted food or water, or because they were unable to afford the medicines that they need due to increasing expenses. These amenities that people who “just want to be left alone” enjoy are based on the hard work of MDs, researchers, public health officials and scientists of many backgrounds who are easy targets when people do not feel threatened, but clearly expected to perform when people are afraid.

    Remember when you were all clamoring about how something needed to be done when the Ebola scare was on ?  Who exactly do you think was going to “do something” if not your doctors of both the MD and the public health type ? So public health was supposed to save everyone from a hypothetical epidemic, but are expected to sit down and shut up so as not to “bother anyone” with the very real epidemic that we do have ?

    That’s some fine logic being demonstrated there.

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