SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Voters in San Francisco and Berkeley were deciding Tuesday whether to tax the makers of sodas and sugary drinks after similar measures were rejected in other parts of the country.
Soft-drink manufacturers waged a multimillion-dollar campaign to try to defeat the ballot measures in the California cities, fearing that liberal Berkeley in particular might become the largest city in the country to successfully impose the sugar sin tax.
High-dollar campaigns and lawsuits by the American Beverage Association have helped defeat soda taxes in more than a dozen other cities. The California Legislature has made at least six attempts to impose some kind of tax on sweetened beverages, all of which failed.
Voters in San Francisco were deciding whether to make distributors pay a tax of 2 cents an ounce on sugary drinks, with the revenue to be used to fund programs promoting healthy eating and physical activity.
Berkeley voters were considering a proposed tax of 1 cent an ounce, with proceeds going to the city general fund.
Passage in Berkeley would take only a simple majority of voters. In San Francisco, two-thirds approval would be necessary, giving that proposal a tougher slog.
As of early October, the $76 billion U.S. soft-drink industry had spent $7.7 million to defeat the measure in San Francisco. That made it 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.
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.
Heavy TV and radio advertising by the soda industry 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.
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