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HomeSpotlight Story | Bird’s Eye View | Budget & Taxes | Politics & Leadership | Governors | Hot Issues | Once Around the Statehouse Lightly
In his budget address in late February, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) called for a tax increase on sodas and other sugary drinks. Soda tax legislation has also been introduced this year in California, Massachusetts New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But the California bill has already been shelved, and the others may meet a similar fate.
Along with several cities across the country, including Philadelphia and California’s Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, a handful of states - Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia - have imposed such taxes. But no state has levied such a tax since 1992. Meanwhile, Arizona, California and Michigan have banned local governments from passing their own soda taxes.
The change of fortune for soda taxes is due at least in part to the expensive battle soft drink companies and the powerful American Beverage Association (ABA) have been waging against them. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo spent $352,469 and $371,482, respectively, on lobbying California lawmakers in 2017 and 2018, while the ABA spent more than $1 million, according to analysis by California Healthline. In March, the ABA reported that it paid $604,000 for ads attacking Philadelphia’s existing soda tax.
The ABA is also backing a group in Connecticut called Keep CT Affordable that is working to block the soda tax proposal there.
“There are better ways to help reduce the amount of sugar people get from beverages than a tax that places an unfair burden on working families and neighborhood businesses already struggling with the state’s high cost of living,” the group told the Hartford Courant.
Public health advocates like New York University professor Marion Nestle, author of Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning), counter that soda taxes have significant societal benefits.
“They educate the public about the harm to health caused by overconsumption of sugary drinks,” he said. “They encourage reduced consumption. They are most effective in reducing consumption among low-income people, who are the greatest targets of soda marketing and have a higher prevalence of the consequences of soda consumption - higher risks of type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions related to overweight.”
California Rep. Richard Bloom (D), the author of the failed soda tax bill in that state this year, meanwhile, likened the soda industry to the tobacco industry in that it pushes an addictive product with big spending. But he said there was “a growing awareness around this issue, reflected by the various local governments, states and counties taking this up.”
“I think every issue has its time,” he said. “We’ve really turned the corner when it comes to fighting big tobacco. It took many decades to make that happen. This one’s going to take time, too.” (GOVERNING, HARTFORD COURANT)