Guest Commentary: Why I Joined the Effort to Tax Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

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Supporters of the Soda Tax at City Hall on Monday ask that the council put the measure on the ballot
Supporters of the soda tax at City Hall on Monday ask that the council put the measure on the ballot

by Neil Ruud

When my friend asked me the other day, “You’re asking for an increase in the tax? how much are they currently being taxed?” I laughed and told him there wasn’t a tax yet but, upon further reflection, we are already paying extra for our sugary drinks. Those hidden costs come in the form of increasing medical expenses and lost opportunities. We tax alcohol and other goods that can cause significant public harm, why not sugary drinks?

Sugary drinks aren’t just “not good” for you, they are detrimental to our health. As more and more research shows that a “calorie in” is not the same as a “calorie out,” it becomes increasingly obvious that sugary drinks, while not the sole cause, are an exceptional contributor to a number of wide-spread diseases: sugary drinks make up half of the added sugar we consume day-to-day. The sucrose in that sugar can lead to diabetes and the fructose to fatty liver disease. There are children who have livers that look like they’ve been drinking whiskey every day instead of soda and one-quarter of teens have developed type 2 diabetes or are well on their way with prediabetes.

The damages done by sugary drink consumption cannot be “worked off,” they can only be treated with insulin injections and liver transplants. Diabetes is one of the leading healthcare costs in the United States and fatty liver disease is increasingly costly as well. Selfishly, I don’t want to pay for the increased healthcare costs our society is looking at and businesses shouldn’t want to pay them either. More importantly, I believe that wealthy sugary drink corporations should pay something to mitigate the negative impacts of their products– especially as the diabetes rate has exploded over the last three decades.

Local businesses recognize this problem. I’ve spoken with a number of groups, individuals, and organizations in town who agree that something needs to be done about the alarming rates of diabetes and fatty liver disease– especially in children. As they’ve shared their concerns with me one thing is clear: we must avoid an unfair administrative burden on our local businesses. We can make sure the tax rightfully targets the irresponsible actors by exempting small businesses who don’t purchase enough sugary drinks to warrant working with large distributors.

Mexico’s peso-per-litre tax led to a 12% decrease in consumption. Berkeley’s cent-per-oz tax has funded school nutrition programs including a gardening and cooking program. What’s more Yolo County than that?

A cent-per-ounce distributor tax with an exemption for small businesses is the right way to address the burdens we all share at the profit of the soda industry. Then, to address the concerns members of our community have expressed regarding how this money might be spent, the ordinance should require that the Recreation and Parks Commission and Social Services Commission review the income and advise the City Council on how to spend it, whether it goes to fixing Rainbow City, maintaining our bike paths, or funding better nutritional programs for our children.

Regardless, this is not just about raising revenue for our community, it’s about taking a stand for the health of our children and our community that will empower other communities in our region and around the world to do the same. Just this last week, the World Health Organization called for taxes on sugary drinks citing the unique health risks they pose to children and the success in Mexico.

I hope you join me, my neighbors, and many local and global organizations in asking the City Council to place a sugary drink tax on the ballot this June. Don’t let the sugary drink industry censor this conversation with ad buys and large political expenditures. Let Davis decide.

The need for leadership on this issue has never been greater. With momentum building around the world and no substantive progress at the state or national level, we must confront this issue ourselves and pave the way for other communities. After all, progress comes in small bites– not big gulps.

Neil Ruud is a Davis Resident. The Davis City Council is considering a sugary drink tax, among other potential June revenue measures, tonight at the city council meeting.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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70 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Why I Joined the Effort to Tax Sugar-Sweetened Beverages”

  1. Barack Palin

    So who staged this and put these kids up to this?  I have a hard time believing that a group of young people feel strongly enough about a soda tax to go to City Hall and to support the tax unless they were coaxed to do so.   What group or organization sponsored the event?

    1. David Greenwald

      So you have a group of local politicians pushing for a tax and organizing an event. Meanwhile the beverage industry, which spent tens of millions to kill taxes across the state has come in. And yet, you are seeing cynical manipulations among the local activists and ignore the manipulations coming from out of town from the beverage industry.

      1. Barack Palin

        That’s how it’s done, march in the kids for the sympathy effect.  It’s harder for council members to say no to kids.  Hopefully we have enough council members with the backbone to put this issue to sleep tonight.

        1. sisterhood

          you are seeing cynical manipulations among the local activists and ignore the manipulations coming from out of town from the beverage industry.

          I applaud the kids . BTW, I took my kids out of school, for one day, with their school’s permission, to register voters in Nevada a few years ago. They thoroughly enjoyed it, and they learned about the voting process. A real life civics lesson.

          You should be more worried about the big soda industry.

      2. Tia Will

        Alan

        Using children as ‘useful idiots’ is pathetic.”

        And I would agree if I believed for one moment that this is what is being done. However, I would find it very offensive if you had referred to my children as “useful idiots” when they were expressing their own firmly held beliefs ( of which a soda tax does not happen to be one) at roughly the same ages that these children seem to be.

  2. Tia Will

    Neil

    I want to thank you for presenting a clear, concise presentation of many of the issues involved.

    BP

    It is of interest to me that you are very interested in getting to the bottom of who is responsible for the participation of children ( most likely by their parents if a school excuse was involved) and yet seem completely oblivious to the large sums of money being spent by the beverage industry to try to convince this same population that their lives will be enhanced by drinking these non nutritional substances.  So it would seem to me that you are ok with companies being able to advocate freely for harmful substances in children’s diet, but are opposed to children showing interest in our democratic processes.

    1. hpierce

      What  (if any) concrete evidence is there that the beverage industry has actually spent money to keep this tax off the Davis ballot?  People keep repeating it… can anyone document it?

      1. Barack Palin

        They’ve bought some local ads but from my perspective the soda tax proponents have done far more to push this tax in Davis than anything the beverage industry has done to stop it.

        1. Barack Palin

          I am wondering what objection, in a representative democracy, you have to each side advocating for their cause in any legal manner ?

          I’m not, it’s the soda tax proponents who are the ones who are trying to make the beverage industry into some big bad corporation whose money is manipulating local politics when in fact many of us see it as the local activists who are attempting the actual manipulation.

        2. Davis Progressive

          your viewpoint here seems a bit limited however.  despite the fact that the beverage industry hasn’t sent a flier to YOUR home YET, they have likely outspent the otherside with their adds alone.  they have a paid consultant working in davis.  they threatened the mayor and got him to flip, etc.

      2. Tia Will

        hpierce

        I think that the add that ran as the banner add on the Vanguard was paid for by soda industry related funds. Since I do not know who actually placed the add, David would have to verify. I would see this as an effort to keep the tax measure off the ballot since it was placed prior to consideration by the CC.

        And even if there were no evidence of specificity to this local measure, Don has previously posted ample evidence that the soda industry has spent large sums of money to prevent other such measures from passing as was the case in San Francisco.

        I am not offering either of the above as “proof” but certainly as evidence.

        1. hpierce

          What happened in SF or Bezerkly is indeed absolutely no evidence to what is happening in Davis… perhaps David could indeed shed some light on the source of the banner ad funding…  will have to look for the banner ad, now that it is reported it exists…

          1. David Greenwald

            The banner ad ran the last two weeks in December. The source was an east coast marketing consulting company. The link was a Cal Bev industry website.

        2. Barack Palin

          The Bev industry hasn’t sent any mailers to my house, shown up to a council meeting or at city hall for an anti-soda tax event like the pro tax side has.

  3. Frankly

    Give it up.  This is a stupid pursuit unless you have ulterior motives or a hidden agenda.

    Soda sales have been on decline for the last 11 years.  The reason is that people are paying more attention to their eating habits and getting healthier.

    Just like the fake cry for needing fluoride in the water, there is no obesity crisis in Davis that is caused by excess soda consumption.

    I offered to help get fluoride to these kids in Davis unable to get dental care.  I put effort into finding them.  I contacted the non-profits that had been making the case for the need for fluoride.

    And guess what?

    They would not return my calls.

    The reason?

    Those kids did not exist.

    It was a fake crisis that they had to pursue as they were running out of real causes that justified their existence.

    The same is true for public health social justice crusaders.

    As the population gets healthier they will double-down on making up fake crises to justify their existence.

    Repeat… a soda tax is stupid.

    1. Tia Will

      Frankly

      They would not return my calls.

      The reason?

      Those kids did not exist.”

      Well, that is certainly not true according to the Chief of Pediatrics for North Valley Kaiser, Dr. Yvonne Otani, who presented to both the CC and the advisory committee on this issue. If you have contacted either her or myself, I guarantee that we would have responded to you. However, I suspect that you were too busy calling me a liar at CC meetings and on the Vanguard to have considered that approach.

       

  4. Tia Will

    DP

    they threatened the mayor and got him to flip, etc.”

    In fairness to hpierce, BP and others who seem skeptical about the local influence of soda related money from companies which benefit from its production, delivery, and sales, and unlike with the local ads ( thank you David and Don for the corroboration of my point), I have neither evidence nor proof beyond the circumstantial that this is true.

    Do you ?  If so, now would be a great time to provide it.

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      i have the word of people i trust that something went down.  you’ll notice that not one person has refuted the claim made by the vanguard – not one.  now that’s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt by any means, but don’t you think if the vanguard were wrong one of the members of team wolk, particularly will arnold would have corrected it?

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        Putting ones own political fortunes and/or ones political ideology above the health and well being of our community is not what I would call having “backbone”.

      2. Tia Will

        DP

        Thanks for responding. First I do not know what members of “Team Wolk” would do with regard to the Vanguard as I doubt that many of them choose to post here to make corrections. At least, I have not seem many.

        But since I only posted that in fairness to Dan Wolk, I also feel that there is something that I might add in fairness to you and your speculation. Since I often am on the same side of health and wellness issues as is our Mayor, I frequently e mail him with my opinions and support. He invariably answers my notes of support.

        When I emailed him an essentially “what the heck” note along with my disapproval when he withdrew his support for such a measure after having first apparently been in favor, I heard nothing back from him……and I do mean nothing. Now I will admit that he may have been too busy with his campaign and his life to respond. But, then I have to ask myself, why has he always responded favorably previously and said nothing at all when I express strong disagreement.

  5. South of Davis

    I was running by Davis High today and found this letter on the ground:

    Dear Poor Fat Kids,

    Many of us rich thin kids will leaving school early to  join our well educated fit parents at a protest today in support of a new tax that will help to bring more money in to the public sector.  As many of you know public sector pensions are underfunded and need more cash so we are supporting a tax that none of our parents will ever pay (Uncle Herbert only stops in Davis every few years when driving from Piedmont to his place on the West Shore so that 12 pack of 7up we have to make him a Seven and Seven should last until he dies).  Look on the bright side if your poor uneducated parents are paying more in taxes every time they pick up happy meals for you kids (with the non-default beverage) or mix up a batch of purple drank you will be giving out parents more money to buy us food at Whole Foods when they swing by to pick up a bottle of highly rated organically farmed Sonoma County wine.

    Sincerely, the Rich Thin Kids
     

    1. Barack Palin

      Many of us rich thin kids will leaving school early to  join our well educated fit parents at a protest today in support of a new tax that will help to bring more money in to the public sector.

      SOD, good to see you.  I was thinking the same thing.  I wonder how many of these kids were children and grandchildren of the adults at the protest?

  6. Tia Will

    South of Davis

    It is my sincere hope that children of all physical body types and personal beliefs will want to become more, not less engaged in our democratic processes. Although I can hardly anticipate that they will find encouragement to do so in your post.

    1. hpierce

      Perhaps you should also have the sincere hope, as I do, that children of all body types will take personal responsibility for their own health, including eschewing over-consumption of sugary drinks [aka “soda”], tobacco, alcohol, lethargy [media of all sorts], etc.  Yes I also believe they should be VERY engaged in voting… yet, the most powerful message they can “vote for” is their own, informed behavior… a form of “act locally”…  not sure us ‘adults’ can impose those things on them.

      As for other “personal beliefs”…

       

      1. Tia Will

        hpierce

        not sure us ‘adults’ can impose those things on them.”

        I agree that we cannot impose those things on them. However, I do believe that it is the responsibility of adults to provide for children a healthy environment in which selection the best choices is easier than selecting junk. In this, we are failing our children miserably and then expecting them, as children, to make the best choices. Not a realistic expectation from my point of view when they see the adults around them consistently bombarding them with messages glorifying poor choices for profit.

         

  7. Tia Will

    Alan

    Tia, it’s done all the time in politics, and it is pathetic.”

    While this is doubtless true in some instances, “all the time” is a very broad statement. And unless you have spoken with each of these children, and/or have been tapping into Frankly’s mind reading techniques, I sincerely doubt that you know the thought processes of each of these children.

    If you have found a way to do so, please correct me and I will stand down. Otherwise I think that there are a lot of very rude and dismissive to say nothing of just plain disgusting ( as in the “letter”) comments being made here. And frankly, it is this belittling of these young folks to take a cheap political shot that I find pathetic.

    1. Alan Miller

      “all the time” wasn’t my focus, nor is that what that means.

      it is this belittling of these young folks to take a cheap political shot

      what cheap shot?

  8. Tia Will

    Alan

    I would love to hear the real story.”

    Well, if it it is the truth that you are after, perhaps asking the involved children or their parents might shed some light. If you are not willing to do the leg work involved, I completely empathize and feel that discussing how it turned out that the kids were present with Robb rather than just assuming and making nasty comments based on your assumptions. I know that you know where to find him.

     

      1. Alan Miller

        If you are not willing to do the leg work involved,

        I am not; what a waste of time that would be.  I remember being indoctrinated by teachers into their belief system from the time I was 8 or 9.  I know the drill, and I don’t need to do research to know that these kids would not have organized themselves into showing up at City Hall because this is such an important issue to them.  I doubt one of them ever considered a soda tax before some adult recently brought it up to them.

        Still waiting to hear my “nasty comments”.

      2. Tia Will

        Alan

        “what cheap shot”

        The one that implies that a poster here on the Vanguard is aware of the motives of the children shown in the picture and/or their parents or other guiding adults are doing something “pathetic” without having interviewed them to ascertain their true motives.

        David has made the statement that his motive is to educate through activism, his own children and those of the community regarding the benefits of better food and drink choices. So, unless you are willing to state that you believe that David and other parents whose children were at this event are all liars, then this speculation regarding “pathetic” adult actions is in my opinion a “cheap shot”.

      3. Tia Will

        Alan

        Using children as ‘useful idiots’ is pathetic.”

        Perhaps you do not consider the above quote a “nasty comment”. I do. So I guess this simply represents a point of disagreement for us.

  9. Misanthrop

    I find it quite sad that some would denigrate the young people who participated in the event. Hopefully these young people will learn from some of these mean spirited remarks that when exercising your free speech rights you are likely to be attacked by those who oppose you who also can exercise their own free speech rights. Hopefully they also learned not to be deterred by such bullying tactics. We are worried about bullying in our schools. Its too bad that some couldn’t refrain from modeling bullying behavior of a type that we wouldn’t want our students to engage in toward others.

    My  hope is that these young people learn to participate in our political process and vote now if they are old enough or when they come of age. We need more participation in our community politics by young people. We need to encourage them to participate instead of mocking them with satirical and fictional letters or unsubstantiated claims about their motivations.

    These young people peaceably assembled, engaged in protected free speech, didn’t disrupt anything or interfere with anybody. They did what we should want all our young people to do, they exercised their constitutional rights as Americans.

    As for the authors of these nasty cynical remarks. You have the right to be verbally abusive of these kids. Its simply too bad that you couldn’t exercise better judgement, discretion or restraint.

     

    1. Alan Miller

      I find it quite sad that some would denigrate the young people who participated in the event.

      I wasn’t insulting the young people; I was insulting the adults who organized them for the event. Read what I wrote.

      If you are taking the term ‘useful idiot’ out of the context I presented it in, please look up the definition:

      “In political jargon, useful idiot is a term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of.”

      1. Barack Palin

        Yes Alan, that’s how I took your comments.  Don’t worry about it.

        I seriously doubt that all these kids woke up yesterday morning and asked:

        “Mom, can I get a note to get out of class today because I want to go to City Hall and protest for the soda tax.”

         

        1. Barack Palin

          So explain to us how it came about.  Was it a class excursion or something to that affect. Or maybe adult protesters bringing their children and grandchildren?

          1. David Greenwald

            I guess in the end, I don’t feel like this is a real issue. You seem to be pushing it as a way to distract from the core discussion. So if you care, look into it, and report back. If not, let’s discuss the core issue.

        2. Alan Miller

          No but it was their choice as to whether or not they would participate.

          I pretty much made the choice as a child to participate in anything that got us out of the classroom.

        3. Alan Miller

          So if you care, look into it, and report back.

          Strange BP, Tia made a similar challenge to me on this issue.  When you are out of arguments, tell the other side to go do research?

      2. Tia Will

        Alan

        Using children as ‘useful idiots’ is pathetic.”

        Perhaps you do not consider the above quote a “nasty comment”. I do. So I guess this simply represents a point of disagreement for us.

      3. Tia Will

        Alan

        “In political jargon, useful idiot is a term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of.”

        It was not your use of the term “political idiots” that I objected to. It was your use of the pejorative term “pathetic” when you had no substantiation of either the assumed lack of understanding of the student participants or the motivations of their parents. Since you used anecdote about your personal experience, I will do the same. When my kids were in Junior High and High School, I used to encourage them to participate in events that were of interest to them, and I did not spoon feed them my

        And I do not consider the use of the explanation that “it happens all the time in politics” as an adequate explanation for a specific event.  But that is just me.

         

  10. Alan Miller

    Hey BP!  Want to take a day off work tomorrow and go over to the Junior High School and interrogate kids about why they showed up at City Hall for the Soda Tax thing?

  11. Tia Will

    I know that some here believe that it is “pathetic” for parents and teachers to encourage students to participate in public events of which the posters do not approve. These same posters seem to have no problem at all with the daily inundation of ads portraying sugary beverages as essential for happiness and social success using such strategies as cute polar bears and teens smiling and singing about world peace and togetherness. I guess that these same posters do not see this barrage of ads as propaganda.

    We will just have to agree to disagree on this point as I see this ads as every bit as much “propaganda” as I do Joe Camel. If you do not believe that this profit driven propaganda is harmful and needs to be countered by responsible adults, then please explain to me just exactly what good you see these ads as doing for our children or our society.

    1. Alan Miller

      then please explain to me just exactly what good you see these ads as doing for our children or our society.

      A real evil for them to learn how to resist via the use of personal power.

      While as a whole society is degraded through the brainwashing of evil power such as Big Beverage, none of us are truly victims unless we allow ourselves to be.

  12. Tia Will

    Alan

    Hey BP!  Want to take a day off work tomorrow and go over to the Junior High School and interrogate kids about why they showed up at City Hall for the Soda Tax thing?”

    I agree with you that this would be an unrealistic approach to learning the truth, which you claim to care about. What I would suggest is that if you are unwilling to speak to their parents, or to the supervising adults, or to Robb Davis or David about the organization of the event, then perhaps it is not really “the truth” or at least a balanced representation of points of view that is of interest to you, but rather just advancing your own ideologic point of view.

    Which is fine in my book as long as you are labeling your comments as such, and not as some desire for “truth”.  Again, and I stress, just my opinion based solely on the posting here and perhaps not representative of the full complexities of your motives.

    But then, in all fairness, perhaps “pathetic” is not representative of the  full complexities of their motives either. Just offered as a thought for consideration.

     

    1. Alan Miller

      this would be an unrealistic approach to learning the truth, which you claim to care about.

      Not so much.

      What I would suggest is that if you are unwilling to speak to their parents, or to the supervising adults, or to Robb Davis or David

      Quite unwilling.

      then perhaps it is not really “the truth” or at least a balanced representation of points of view that is of interest to you, but rather just advancing your own ideologic point of view.

      True.

      Also true:  those kids were used by the adults and never would have organized on their own to propose a soda tax.

      God told me so.

      1. Tia Will

        Alan

        Yes, but I often choose not to be”

        I understand this. And I understand it is your choice. But I believe that it is an ineffective choice.

        We have now worked on the same side of several issues in town. What I find is that you can be very effective when you advocate by stating the actual reasons for your position, even if you advocate passionately. You are often effective when you use humor to advocate for your position. Where you are not effective, in my view, is when you choose to use insults and degrading comments which tend to turn people off and lead to their unwillingness to consider the actual merits of your position.

        Because you have the potential for being a very strong and knowledgeable advocate for safer trains in our region, I sincerely hope that you will consider a more inclusive, respectful approach to safe train advocacy since I feel that the approach that you are demonstrating here is more likely to cause people to write Davis safe train advocacy off as  a bunch of would be comedians and unreasonable naysayers when what we need is fact based reasoning. The train issue is far, far to important to be turned into a circus. I hope that we can be at least in agreement on the trains even if you can’t or won’t take the soda issue seriously.

  13. Tia Will

    Alan

    When you are out of arguments, tell the other side to go do research?”

    I was not making an argument at this point. I was challenging what I perceived as an unsubstantiated claim on your part. You are much better than this. I have seen your presentation on many occasions of fact based issues regarding the trains and other issues of significance. This was clearly not one of those evidence based informational statements and in my opinion detracts from the evidence claims that you could have been making in your asserted goal of wanting to know “the truth”.

    Read what I wrote.”

    I did, at least four times for a full appreciation of just how “nasty” I consider the word “pathetic” in this context without any facts to substantiate your claim about “motive”.

  14. Misanthrop

    So now you are denigrating the motivation of these young people and assume that it couldn’t be altruistic because you view all children as having the same cynical disposition as your own both now and at that age. Its amazing that a guy who never shy’s away from exercising his own free speech rights is so critical of some young people  without any understanding of what motivated them.

    Last night you begged the community to go to Benecia to protest oil trains. If these same young people don’t turn out will you ask yourself if your ridicule of their participation in an anti-soda demonstration made them shy away from exercising their free speech rights on other topics?

    1. Alan Miller

      As I said, I was criticizing the adults who used them as useful idiots, not the children.

      Lets use some logic here:  those children all appeared to be the same age.  What are the odds?  Only children of one age decided to organize themselves.  How is the possible.

      If these same young people don’t turn out will you ask yourself if your ridicule of their participation in an anti-soda demonstration made them shy away from exercising their free speech rights on other topics?

      That question is really a snoggle-blozzer.   In answer to your question:  Thursday.

      You are yet another example of why the Vanguard should not allow anonymous people: you sit there in your cowardly, anonymous perch and judge me, insult me personally, a real name who isn’t afraid to say who I am and what I believe, in writing and in public.

  15. Tia Will

    Alan

    What are the odds?  Only children of one age decided to organize themselves.  How is the possible.”

    I would say that the odds are relatively high. It may be that the children of one class, or one school, decided to take this on as a community service project or a civil engagement project. It may or may not have been suggested by their teacher or their parents. Here is how it is possible for children of one age to organize themselves. How do I know with such certainty ?  My own daughter, when only a couple of years older than these children came to me ( not the other way around) with her research on what she thought would be a good project which was to feed the women in a shelter for abused women. Part of their assigned task was to identify the need, and plan the project. None of this was spoon fed to them. All she needed from me was my support with cooking expertise and transportation since she and her friends, all the same age, were a few years too young to drive.

    So I know that it is entirely possible. My point is that you were willing to make accusations without any evidence that your assumption is correct. I simply do not see this as a reasonable approach to ascertaining “the real story” or the “truth” and it is certainly not an effective way to build bridges between individuals of differing points of view.

     

    1. Tia Will

      Alan

      you sit there in your cowardly, anonymous perch and judge me, insult me personally, a real name who isn’t afraid to say who I am and what I believe, in writing and in public.”

      Point of view understood. But your certainly cannot say the same of me. And I stand in agreement with some, although not all of Misanthrope’s positions.

      And, in line with your ongoing vocabulary lessons, what is a snuggle-blozzer ?

       

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