Industry Successful in Killing Statewide Soda Tax without a Vote

Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin spoke at a rally in Davis back in February
Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin spoke at a rally in Davis back in February

For the second year in a row, legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, which would have imposed a two-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages, was killed for lack of support and pulled by the Assemblymember ahead of a scheduled vote on Tuesday.

This is the second year in a row of defeat on this issue.  Last year, similar legislation lost in the Assembly Health Committee by four votes.

“I am disappointed that the committee failed to act today on one of the biggest health crises facing our nation,” said Assemblymember Bloom in a statement following last year’s defeat.  “Diabetes is now the seventh largest cause of death in the nation.  If current trends aren’t reversed, one-in-three children born after 2000—and specifically one-in-two African-American or Hispanic children—are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes.  The overwhelming view of health experts is that the single most significant cause of obesity and diabetes is overconsumption of sugar.”

The setback comes among renewed pressure by the public health committee and new research such as a new UCLA study which found that nearly half of California adults – including one out of every three young adults – have prediabetes, a precursor to life-threatening Type 2 diabetes, or undiagnosed diabetes.

The study found that 13 million adults in California, which accounts for 46 percent of the state’s population, are estimated to have prediabetes or diabetes, while another 2.5 million adults (9 percent) have already been diagnosed with diabetes.

Combined, the two groups represent a majority of the state’s adult population, 15.5 million or 55 percent of the total population. “Since diabetes is more commonly seen among older adults, the study’s finding that 33 percent of young adults (18 to 39 years old) have prediabetes is of particular concern,” the release stated.

Dr. Harold Goldstein, the report’s co-author and executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, based in Davis, told the Bee that he did not expect to see such high numbers. He told the paper, “The numbers are so large that they stop you in your tracks. … It’s hard to digest that the situation is as bad as it is.”

Moreover, he added, “These are the young adults who grew up during the childhood obesity epidemic.”

He said in a release, “This is the clearest indication to date that the Type 2 diabetes epidemic is out of control and getting worse. With limited availability of healthy food in low income communities, a preponderance of soda and junk food marketing, and urban neighborhoods lacking safe places to play, we have created a world where diabetes is the natural consequence.”

However, efforts to impose a soda tax have fallen to defeat.  Not only have bills to tax soft drinks failed, but more innocuous bills to put labels on high sugar drinks have as well.

Locally, the 3-2 council vote to reject putting a soda tax on the ballot was just one of many setbacks for a movement to curtail the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.

The Davis City Council, under pressure from the beverage industry who dumped millions into fighting soda tax campaigns in Sacramento and Berkeley, decided to study the issue.

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis has called this “the public health crisis of our time,” and in January warned that we have children “whose lives are starting to be taken away by fatty liver disease and the problem of over-consumption of sugary beverages.”

“These are lives lost, these are lives changed, these are families altered in ways that we can’t take back,” he continued.

“The challenge of sugar beverages is quite simple, they’re a delivery mechanism,” he explained. “They deliver fructose to the liver in probably the most efficient means of doing so. Quickly. And rather than being cleared by the liver, that sugar stays there and is turned into fat and that fat and the inhibition of fat burning that goes along with it, means that all the precursors of diabetes, heart disease and coronary artery disease – the genesis is occurring in that location.”

In Yolo County, the number is 48 percent of all adults – who have diabetes or prediabetes. As startling as that number may be, however, Yolo County is better off than most counties.

Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said in February that, as Superintendent, she toured schools in all 58 counties in California and said that parents and teachers alike are alarmed by the overweight conditions of our students. “This leads too often to things like Type-2 diabetes, to things like sleep apnea, and other impacts on health.”

She cited a UCLA study showing that being overweight can shorten your life by over 20 years. “We must be focused on the health of our children – the ounce of prevention that’s worth a pound of cure. Or an ounce less of sugar that’s worth a healthy child.”

The tax may reduce consumption, she said. “We hope so. The truth be known, kids are drinking, way, way, way too much sugar.” However, she called it “terrifying” how much sugar kids are consuming when they drink more than one soda in a day.

But the beverage industry is formidable.  They pumped millions into an unsuccessful campaign to defeat a Berkeley soda tax, but were successful at defeating a similar one in San Francisco.

In December, pressure by the industry was able to flip Davis Mayor Dan Wolk just two weeks after a group of elected and former elected officials, including Senator Lois Wolk, pushed for council to put the soda tax on the ballot.

Mayor Wolk had been a strong backer of a healthy families initiative, which included changing the default beverage away from sugary drinks in Davis. However, in February he distanced himself from the soda tax, claiming, “The soda tax has never been part of my, our, highly successful healthy families initiative. Though certainly becoming the first city in the nation to eliminate soda from kids’ meals or at least making milk and water the default beverage was one thing, and we accomplished that and I’m really proud.”

He said, “I’m not a big fan of big soda, it’s a real issue in our society.” He added, “What has been part of my vision is to pass a revenue measure in June 2016, that would fund at least parks and recs facilities, that would fund infrastructure.”

The mayor would add, “I’m intrigued by a soda tax. I want to definitely learn more about it. But as an infrastructure revenue measure, that’s to me what we should be focused on in June 2016,” the mayor continued. “I think we need a different tool.”

He concluded, “The soda tax is very controversial. It hasn’t been… studied or really vetted by the community. It would engender well-funded opposition – that’s clear certainly from Berkeley. And it would have difficulty at the ballot box.”

The Sacramento Bee reports that the beverage industry has been involved in heavy lobbying on this issue.  “The California Nevada Beverage Association, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have spent at least $413,000 on lobbying since the start of 2015, according to records filed with the California secretary of state. The industry spent nearly $500,000 on campaign contributions during the last election cycle.”

However, the public health crisis continues.  The UCLA study found that ‘‘not only does diabetes increase the risk of serious medical complications, but it is also extremely costly to families, businesses, health care plans, states, and the nation.’’

They add, “Despite medical advances helping those with diabetes to live longer today than in the past, a 50-year-old individual with diabetes will, on average, die 8.5 years earlier than someone without diabetes.”

The study notes, “Diabetes cost the United States an estimated $245 billion in 2012, with $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in indirect costs (e.g. lost productivity, disability and premature death).

“In California, total health care and related costs for the treatment of diabetes is about $24.5 billion each year. The disease adds an extra $1.6 billion dollars every year in just hospitalization costs, with hospital stays for patients with diabetes costing nearly $2,200 more than for patients without diabetes. Three-quarters of that care is paid through Medicare and Medi-Cal, including $254 million in costs that are paid by Medi-Cal tax dollars. On average, medical expenditures for people with diabetes are 2.3 times more expensive than for those without diabetes.”

—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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22 Comments

  1. The Pugilist

    For those who ask why should Davis have a soda tax – here’s the answer – we need critical mass.  Plastic Bag Ban only passed the legislature when there were 100 other jurisdictions that had already passed it.

      1. The Pugilist

        I’m pretty sure what I said was: “Plastic Bag Ban only passed the legislature when there were 100 other jurisdictions that had already passed it.”  I know you object to being second, but you also would object to being number 100, so it’s kind of a disingenuous argument you’re making.

  2. Barack Palin

    I’m glad that level heads prevailed on the Davis City Council and stopped the soda tax lunacy.

    It’s good to know we’re not as looney as Bezerkely yet.  Give us time though, we’re well on our way.

      1. Barack Palin

        Oh, I have no doubt, like I said, we’re well on our way to being just like Bezerkeley.  Then our local liberals can move on to their next feel good social engineering cause.

    1. Tia Will

      BP

      If being more like Berkeley includes having a healthier population with less adolescent and adult diabetics, then I think we should all be behind measures that help us get there.

      1. Mark West

        “If being more like Berkeley includes having a healthier population with less adolescent and adult diabetics, then I think we should all be behind measures that help us get there.”

        So tell us Dr. Will, does Berkeley have fewer adolescent and adult diabetics than Davis? That is your claim, that the existence of a soda tax will reduce the incidence of the disease, so show us the data. Are the residents of Berkeley healthier than the residents of Davis?

  3. Tia Will

    Anon

    I am sure that you have read the previous postings with regard to these points and as such are probably well aware of the counter arguments, but just so both sides are fully represented :

    1. It is true that there have been some modest recent gains. I still consider a quarter of the population a number significant to warrant further intervention, especially when you consider the likely impact of the current overweight adolescent and young adult Type II diabetics who will be passing on an increased risk to their unborn children.

    2. While it is true that “diabetes” does have many causes, this does not in any way change the fact that what is being targeted with the sugary beverages tax is only the most common type of diabetes, namely type II which is directly related to sugar intake and obesity. So the argument about “many causes” is a complete red herring which ignores the most common and completely preventable cause which is targeted by these proposals.

    3. What comes next is completely irrelevant to the approval or disapproval of a sugar tax. Each proposal should be judged on its own merits.

    How credible would you find my comment if I were to say “we absolutely need to defeat Nishi because what will be next….. Trackside, Sterling, MRIC, the Olive Drive project ?”

    1. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > So the argument about “many causes” is a complete red herring

      Sugar soda is just a small reason that most (male and female) adults at out local (Dixon and Woodland) Wal Marts weigh over 200 pounds.

      Almost every fat adult “eats” way more calories than they burn (and “eats” a lot of junk) and taxing soda is not going to change this.

      P.S. it is not PC and considered “fat shaming” by many to even talk about the dangers of being fat in the schools, but teaching kids about the relationship between food and health would do a lot more to make people healthy than a “soda tax”…

       

  4. Tia Will

    South of Soda

    Almost every fat adult “eats” way more calories than they burn (and “eats” a lot of junk) and taxing soda is not going to change this.”

    P.S. it is not PC and considered “fat shaming” by many to even talk about the dangers of being fat in the schools, but teaching kids about the relationship between food and health would do a lot more to make people healthy than a “soda tax”…”

    We have also been around this issues several times, but as long as you are willing, so am I.

    First, I agree that most obese people overeat. That does not mean that the rapid consumption of sugar in a form that has no redeeming nutritive value ( sports drink rehydration excepted) is not also a major problem, and one that has a straightforward means of approach via a soda tax.

    Secondly, I could not care less whether the discussion of unhealthy behaviors is PC or not. There is a huge difference between “fat shaming” which is never appropriate, and pointing out risky behaviors. One major problem is that the issue of healthy lifestyles has been being attempted in the schools for as long as I can remember and is proving ineffective. I also regularly counsel about this in my practice, and have for the past 30+ years, also to small effect. We need to do more than what we are already doing. Education is not sufficient. I am certainly open to other ideas, but the straw man argument that soda taxes are no panacea is singularly unhelpful since every one involved in health care or public health is already well aware of this.

    If you have new or better ideas than what those of us in your health care community have been doing for the past 30 years, I am listening. But to repeat over and over that if we only would educate, this problem would be solved is completely unhelpful.

  5. Napoleon Pig IV

    “In December, pressure by the industry was able to flip Davis Mayor Dan Wolk just two weeks after a group of elected and former elected officials, including Senator Lois Wolk, pushed for council to put the soda tax on the ballot.”

    How do “we” know that Dan Wolk was “flipped” by the industry? Who said what or paid what to whom and when to accomplish this? Is Dan now richer after being “flipped?”  If so, isn’t a recall, or an indictment in order?

    Or, are “we” just assuming that when a politician changes his mind or votes against our preference, he has been “flipped” by evil money and power? I’m willing to entertain that hypothesis since my default position is contempt for politicians, but there are exceptions to the rule; i.e., honest politicians exist, even if they are as rare as purple gallinules.

    So, what about Dan? What is the evidence? Guilty or Not Guilty?

    1. Tia Will

      Mr. Pig

      So, what about Dan? What is the evidence? Guilty or Not Guilty?”

      I have no idea despite a lengthy exchange with him directly regarding his reasoning. However, I feel that the question is irrelevant to the bigger issue which for me is the obvious efforts of the soda manufacturers to fight any soda tax with huge amounts of money in addition to the huge amounts that they already spend trying to convince children and adolescents through advertising that soda is essential to having fun and much more important to being popular. Why so many of our population are so resistant to measures to fight against this tidal wave of false and dangerous advertising and so permissive of the company’a right’s to spread their lies is a complete mystery to me. This is especially true given that the needless amount that we spend on diabetic health care annually amounts to billions of dollars ( as a nation ) that could go towards researching diseases that we do not know how to prevent.

       

      1. Napoleon Pig IV

        Tia,

        Although I am strongly pro-capitalism in general, my observation is that bigness harbors evil, whether the bigness is business, government, religion, or the nonprofit sector. So, I agree with you about soda advertising, and I suspect I would agree with you on the dangers of defining corporations as “persons” and granting them constitutional protections under the First Amendment.

        On the other hand, I certainly don’t trust the government to fairly or rationally ration anything through either taxation or prohibition. However, I also oppose government mandated subsidies, such as the outrageous price protections provided to corn sweetener and sugar producers.

        When it comes to advertising, propaganda, and manipulation of the media and politicians, I’d say the soda industry, the tobacco industry, the war industry, and the pharmaceutical industry all have a lot in common.

        Since I see no empirical evidence to trust any government at any level anytime other than on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis, I suppose education is the best solution.

        1. Tia Will

          Mr. Pig
          “Since I see no empirical evidence to trust any government at any level anytime other than on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis,”

          Do you see any empirical evidence to cause you to trust any of these companies that are profiting from products that they know cause disease and death ? If not, why support policies that support them, but preclude even the mildest initiative ?

          On a point by point basis, I agree with your most of your post. However, I cannot agree that “education is best” when it has already been demonstrated not to work.

          If one is awash from the time of conception in a sea of sugar, then bombarded daily in their life with ads for surgery beverages and has them readily supplied by many of the adults in their lives ( parents, sports families, restaurants, theaters) and has as the only opposition a few hours worth of “health education” in school which also has to cover a myriad of other subjects, and the few minutes spent on the subject by the doctor at one’s annual physical, is there much doubt which is behavior going to win ?

          What is proposed here is very modest, and forces no one to do anything ( so much for governmental trust). If you don’t want to pay the tax, don’t buy the drink. But it certainly does get people’s attention as is demonstrated by the flurry of comments every time the subject arises. And as the cigarette model suggests, as more people become more aware, there will come a tipping point. I would just like to see that point come before today’s fetuses have developed diabetes in their teens.

        2. South of Davis

          Tia wrote:

          > On a point by point basis, I agree with your most of your post.

          > However, I cannot agree that “education is best” when it has

          > already been demonstrated not to work.

          The schools in California (that I know of) have not tried to “educate” kids in a way that works (most kids toss the free plastic “food pyramid” plate the day then get it) .  From talking to many teachers and physicians I know most don’t even touch the subject of weight anymore since if you point out that a 200 pound 12 year old girl is not healthy you will almost always have to deal with a a crazy 300 pound mom screaming at you the next day).

          Reminding girls (that with rare exceptions) good looking successful guys are not interested in dating (or marrying) obese woman and reminding guys that (unless they are real rich and/or real successful) that girls don’t want to date or marry a guy that looks like Chris Christy.  Once kids look around and see that this is the truth (I would be surprised if even a single high school homecoming king in the state is dating a girl that weights more than he does) it is a lot easier to get kids to cut back on soda (and other junk food)…

  6. tribeUSA

    I wonder if anyone has done a study on how sugar consumption has changed on a national level over the past 5 decades or more?

    Seems to me data should be available back to around 1950 or so on total tonnage of sugars that have been added to food for USA population–divide that by the size of the population and you’ve got the average sugar consumption per person. My hunch is that it has gone way up since the 1950s–a wild guess would be about 2-fold.

    Also a study on the pernicious creeping of sugar into everyday ‘nonsweet’ foods–I don’t think that 40 years ago sugar was added to most peanut butter, crackers, breads (except specialized types of sweetbread) etc.; I think back then sugar was mainly added only to ‘sweets’–dessert foods like cake, ice cream, pastries, candy, etc.; and most other foods had very little or no added sugar. Now it’s added to a huge fraction of ‘non-sweet’ everyday foods, and I suspect the amounts have been creeping up over the past few decades.

    Seems like this would be a good masters thesis project; maybe even PhD to hunt down some of the important details–however this is an urgent problem; maybe someone from NIH can get it done soon!

  7. Tia Will

    tribeUSA

    I wonder if anyone has done a study on how sugar consumption has changed on a national level over the past 5 decades or more?”

    Many, many such studies have been done on this specific issue. As a first step, I recommend simply Googling “United States sugar consumption over time”. Here you will find a number of studies, some scholarly, some not which present this information in as many formats as one likes. There are articles, bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts and virtually every other type of representation one might care to see. Much of the information is current as of 2014.

    And although I have not done so to confirm, my suspicion is that comparison of this information with that obtained from a Google search of soda consumption would likely demonstrate a similar trend.

     

    1. tribeUSA

      Thanks Tia, had no idea so many surveys of sugar consumption have been done.

      I checked a couple surveys–they both showed USA per capita sugar consumption picking up about 35% since the 1950s, and show a decline from about 2008-2010 to 2014-2015. Would be great to decrease it back to 1950s levels; perhaps many people are just over the consumption threshold that is unhealthy (coincidentally I have cut my own sugar consumption by about 35% since circa 2008 when my blood-sugar fasting level was measured at 117 (mg/dl?) to about 30-40 g/day from all sources (including small amounts in bread, and in fruit, cereal, milk etc.), which is close to the current recommended MDA, as I recall).

      I support the sugar tax as a vice tax (largely to reduce the pernicious addition of sugar to common foods that were formerly unsweetened, such as  most bread, crackers, peanut butter, etc; I wasn’t aware such foods had added sugar until after my pre-diabetic diagnosis; I’m sure many people aren’t aware of the ubiquity of sugar in ‘nonsweet’ foods) , much like that for cigarettes–hope some measure makes the ballot sometime soon, the docs need to keep plugging away at it!

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