No sooner had the idea of a soda tax come forward on December 1, but Dr. Harold Goldstein told the Vanguard that CalBev had come to town and they took no prisoners, dropping money for ads and scaring off key supporters of a local soda tax.
The lessons from San Francisco and Berkeley were clear – if Davis was going to pass a soda tax, it was going to have to go through a million dollar plus campaign. Just as proposals for wood burning restrictions and plastic bag bans took a few go-rounds, so too with the soda tax.
But as we saw last week in Davis, so too do we see in the state legislature. In mid-January, a field poll was released showing overwhelming and growing voter support for warning labels on sugary beverages, much as the Surgeon General has a warning on cigarettes. Seventy-eight percent of those polled supported requiring warning labels on sugary drinks, which is up from 74 percent two years ago.
This despite the $12 million that the soda and beverage industry spent on lobbying efforts to fight both local and statewide regulations.
Senator Bill Monning sponsored SB 203, which had fallen just one vote short of passage in the Senate Health Committee last year. SB 203 would establish “the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, which would prohibit a person from distributing, selling, or offering for sale a sugar-sweetened beverage in a sealed beverage container, or a multipack of sugar-sweetened beverages, in this state unless the beverage container or multipack bears a safety warning, as prescribed.”
It would also have required the warnings on soda machines, as well.
As Greg Glassman wrote a few days ago in an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, “This legislation wouldn’t stop Californians from buying soda, but it would better inform them about what they are buying.”
He added, “What’s more, it would send a message to Big Soda that Californians are getting wise to the role of sugary drinks in making us sick.”
A year ago, Senator Bill Monning, after being defeated on SB 203, issued a statement, “The scientific evidence of the proven adverse health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages demands a health warning label, and it is only a matter of time before California enacts legislation that informs individuals about healthful beverage choices.”
In the same release, Dr. Harold Goldstein noted, “People may know that sugary drinks aren’t good for you, but most people do not know the profoundly harmful end results of consuming liquid sugar, which include type II diabetes and other metabolic disorders.”
He added, “Warning labels offer consumers the information that they have a right to know, in a simple, straightforward and transparent manner.”
Joining Senator Monning last year was Senator Richard Pan, a doctor who represents Sacramento, Senator Holly Mitchell and our own Senator Lois Wolk.
In January, the Senate had a chance to make this right. They had a poll that showed the overwhelming majorities who support a warning label. This time, however, the bill never even came up for a vote. Dr. Goldstein told the Vanguard that they didn’t have the votes.
But, as Mr. Glassman argues, “despite falling just one vote short of passage in the Senate Health Committee last year, the same committee opted to keep SB 203 in limbo this year. Instead of debating the bill’s merits, legislators capitulated to Big Soda lobbyists, even though 78 percent of Californians support warning labels.”
Mr. Glassman writes, “Big Soda is rich and powerful. The industry has gone so far as to pay the so-called exercise sciences community to drum up research that denies that sodas are largely to blame for the obesity and diabetes epidemics.”
Warning label legislation, known as SB 1000 in 2014, originally passed the California State Senate but did not pass in the State Assembly’s Health Committee due to strong beverage industry opposition.
“The beverage industry and their legion of lobbyists made it their top priority to kill warning labels and keep consumers from learning about the significant health implications associated with these sugary products. Nonetheless, what has begun in California will surely spread nationwide as New York moves forward to inform and protect their citizens,” said Dr. Goldstein last year. “How many more people need to get diabetes, and how many more legs need to be amputated, before we warn consumers about the harmful effects of liquid sugar?”
In Davis, we opted not to fight that fight either. Last week, the city council voted 3-2 not to put the soda tax measure on the ballot.
However, the Vanguard has been told that the soda tax is not completely dead either. The council did move to create a community-based task force which could do real outreach to the community and create a Davis-based approach much like the plastic bag ban.
It took several bites of the apple to get both wood burning and plastic bag bans through in Davis, and it might take the same approach for a soda tax.
One thing that is clear and has been increasingly exposed is that the soda industry is going to fight against even commonsense approaches like warning labels. I think we need to, as a community and as a state, re-think the threat that soda and sugar-sweetened beverages pose to us and, much as we did with cigarettes, we are going to have to fight them inch by inch – even on very modest measures like warning labels.
—David M. Greenwald reporting