On Tuesday night a number of public officials came to the city council in support of a proposed soda tax. These included public health officials, Senator Lois Wolk, former Assemblymember Helen Thomson and Former Mayor Ann Evans.
Dr. Harold Goldstein, the Executive Director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, with an office based in Davis, asked the council to “consider” putting a soda tax on the ballot in June, noting a “worldwide movement to begin taxing sugary drinks.”
“The main reason is that sugary drinks have no positive health benefit,” he said. He held up a jar of sugar demonstrating how much one jar of sugar a day would be a on weekly basis. “One twenty ounce soda has 16 teaspoons of sugar,” he said, noting that sugar beverages are a leading contributor to obesity and diabetes.
He noted that part of the problem is that the body absorbs the sugar through liquid in as little as 30 minutes. The glucose, he explained “overwhelms the pancreas whose job is to balance (the body’s) sugar levels. The fructose turns to fat in (the) liver. The combination of burned out pancreas and fatty liver is what causes diabetes.”
“One-quarter of teenagers in this country now have diabetes or pre-diabetes,” he said. He added that his center will be releasing a report in the coming of months showing that a majority of Californians have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
“The benefit of a soda tax, as proven in Berkeley, the first city in the country to pass it, is you get to reduce consumption by raising the price and you get money as revenue that you can use to mitigate the harms caused by those products – so it is a win-win,” he continued. “It counteracts the beverage industries’ marketing. They’re spending half a billion dollars a year marketing to kids with taglines like ‘live for today’ as though teenagers need more encouragement to live for today.”
Former Davis Mayor Ann Evans called this initiative “particularly important for our community,” noting that Davis has “been a leader in so many key areas over so many decades.”
“I would encourage you to put a tax on soda on the ballot in June to further fund and put meaning behind the Children’s Agenda,” she said.
Ms. Evans noted some good news, citing an article that found that the rate of increase in diabetes is dropping. But she said, “In the same article they actually say that soda plays a central role in obesity and diabetes.”
“The doctors and public health officials are asking for a tax to be placed on ballots so that we can have a chance to vote on it and fund some important programming, perhaps that’s existing to a higher degree, perhaps with some scholarships targeting low income kids.”
Gina Daleiden appeared as the interim director of First 5 Yolo, whose mission is to help our community raise children who are healthy and ready to learn. She said that when First 5 Yolo heard of Dr. Goldstein’s sugar tax proposal, they “absolutely support that in concept.”
“First 5 Yolo stands here as a partner in prioritizing children and families,” she said. “We definitely would support in concept – we’d love to see the language- a tax that generates dollars for children’s health and their education.”
Senator Lois Wolk, also a former Davis Mayor, said, “I support your consideration of this issue.” She noted that for the last four years, “we have tried to deal with this issue of either taxing sugary beverages or putting labels on these beverages. We have not been successful in getting out of either the Assembly Health Committee or sometimes the Senate Health Committee.”
Senator Wolk continued, “I think it’s time for people to have their say.” She added that these considerations offer a real opportunity for the city of Davis – for the children and the public health of Davis.
Former County Supervisor and Assemblymember Helen Thomson also spoke in support of the proposed tax. She said, “It would be very helpful if there was the funding that could come into some of the programs that children need.”
Without the revenue source, Ms. Thomson said, it is difficult to do many of the programs that others have supported. She suggested the importance of designating the programs that would benefit from the soda tax.
She added, “I’m a Democrat and I happen to like taxes. I think they have a purpose. We are a democratic society and taxes can do good things for people.”
Back in May, Davis became the first city in the nation to make non-sugary drinks the default for children’s meals at restaurants.
At the time, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis stated, “To me the ubiquity of sugar in our diets goes way beyond beverages [and] is just a testimony to a failed food system.” He likened it to a comment on the oil trains, “A lot of times there’s not a lot we can do locally against an onslaught, in this case, official government policy in the form of the farm bill to support the overproduction of corn which leads to more sugar.”
He continued, “There’s not much we can do as a city against the onslaught of an industry that knows how to push our genetic buttons the way we evolved on the savannah to like that thing that’s sweet and we could get it in small quantities, now we can get it in big. There’s not much we can do – and I think this is something we can do to raise our hand and say that we value the health of our community.”
The health of our children is the responsibility of the community, he said. “I do not see it as a civil liberties issue at all – we all pay the cost of these things. The default in our society is that every decision that limits in some way a person’s default behavior, which this doesn’t do, is an attack on our basic civil liberties. I reject that notion. We have public health priorities that we must meet.”
Back in December of 2014, the Vanguard pushed the notion of a one-cent sales tax on sugary drinks. In November, such a tax passed with three-quarters of the vote in Berkeley.
A Time Magazine article 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.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting