DECISION 2014: Measure To Tax Sugary Drinks Has Lead In Berkeley

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) –€” Voters in Berkeley on Tuesday were heavily favoring a special tax on soda and other sugary drinks with the aim of curbing obesity and related diseases.

With 7 percent of the votes counted in the famously liberal California city, nearly three-fourths had been cast in favor of imposing a one-cent an ounce tax on soft drinks. The measure required a simple majority to pass.

Voters in San Francisco cast ballots on a similar measure to impose a two-cents an ounce tax on sugary drinks.

With just under half of the votes counted, the tax had 53 percent support — short of the two-thirds vote needed for approval.

If the ballot measure passes in Berkeley, it would become the first city in the nation with a soda tax, after voters in more than 30 other cities and states rejected previous proposals amid high-dollar opposition campaigns by soda manufacturers.

“We’re saying no to Big Soda,” Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said as results came in. “We’re saying that Berkeley and the rest of the country need to pay attention that soda is such a destructive product.”

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the more than $10 million opposition campaign in Berkeley and San Franciscofunded by soft-drink manufacturers, argued the Berkeley vote meant little nationally.

“Berkeley is very eclectic. It doesn’t look like Anytown USA,” he said.

Heavy advertising on radio, television and the internet by the $76 billion U.S. soft-drink industry made theSan Francisco soda-tax proposal the second-most expensive campaign involving a ballot initiative in city history. Supporters of the San Francisco tax had collected $230,000 for their effort, mostly in small donations.

In Berkeley, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — with an $85,000 contribution — was among the supporters who ponied up a total of $135,000 to encourage voters to pass the soda tax. The soda industry gathered $1.4 million to fight the Berkeley soda tax.

Bloomberg saw a court battle waged by the soda industry defeat his own effort to impose a limit on soft-drink sizes in New York City.

The California Legislature has made at least six attempts to impose some kind of tax on sweetened beverages, all of which failed.

Supporters of such taxes say soda is a main culprit in rising obesity rates and related diseases including diabetes. They hope the tax will reduce consumption.

The American Beverage Association has portrayed the soda tax as driving up the cost of groceries for low-income families. Studies show that people with less education drink twice as many soft drinks as consumers with a college education.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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