National study reveals soda industry spent $67M lobbying against taxes, warning labels

Dani Sundell/Senior Staff

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A recent study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, reported that the American Beverage Association, PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola have spent about $67 million since 2009 to oppose soda taxes and warning labels in 19 cities and states.

Berkeley became the first U.S. city to adopt a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in November 2014 — despite the $2.4 million spent to counter the ballot measure.

According to City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, during the 2014 election season soda corporations bought up all the advertising at the three Berkeley BART stations, including floor space.

“I think (the advertising) didn’t work because we formed a broad-based coalition … and we were all united in our goal,” Capitelli said.

Since the passage of the tax, there has been a 21 percent decline in sugary beverage consumption in Berkeley’s low-income communities, according to a campus study conducted in August. Currently, Capitelli said, the revenue from the tax funds organizations that would improve local health and nutritional education.

Before their lobbying efforts failed in Berkeley, anti-soda tax campaigns were largely successful, with 30 cities and states  rejecting the tax. For instance, in 2012, a soda tax measure in Richmond, California, was defeated by a $2.7 million campaign funded by the soda industry — resulting in nearly 67 percent of voters voting against the tax.

In anticipation for soda tax ballot measures proposed in Oakland and San Francisco, the CSPI reported that soda companies spent roughly $750,000 on advertising and consulting agencies in Oakland and recently reserved more than $9 million in television advertising in San Francisco.

“The industry has an open checkbook and will continue to write checks and will continue to oppose (these taxes),” said CSPI spokesperson Jim O’Hara.

Soda corporations, however, argue that these measures are actually regressive grocery taxes thereby extending the tax to regular grocery items like milk, bread and vegetables and hurting low-income neighborhoods and small business owners.

A lawsuit filed by American Beverage Association, or ABA, attorneys earlier this month contested the language of the Oakland ballot measure. The lawsuit contested the measure’s assertion that the tax would not affect local grocers, because some could be considered distributors and would thus be required to pay the tax. Alameda County Superior Court Commissioner Thomas Rasch, however, ruled against the soda companies.

“Our efforts help inform people about regressive taxes and discriminatory policies being proposed by their elected officials, and once the public learns the truth about these harmful proposals they oppose them,” ABA spokesperson Lauren Kane said in a statement. She added that one survey conducted in Philadelphia showed about 60 percent of residents opposed the proposed soda tax in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia City Council ultimately passed the 1.5-cent-per-ounce soda tax in June, however, even after the soda industry spent over $9 million lobbying against it.

In addition to San Francisco and Oakland, Albany will be voting this November on their own soda tax measures — Proposition V, Measure HH and Measure 01, respectively.

Contact Fionce Siow at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fioncesiow.