Mayors @LibbySchaaf @mayoredlee announce Oakland and SF #sodatax campaigns #measurehh #propv pic.twitter.com/in8Oy3yCg7— Daniel Montes (@dc_montes) September 2, 2016
To keep soda cheap for you, the little guy, big soda is willing to spend big. Like, big gulp big.
To be precise, the beverage industry has now spent $19.3 million in order to defeat Proposition V, and the Chronicle reports that's higher than any measure before it. The previous record holders: In 2014, the soda industry spent $10 million to successfully defeat our previous proposed soda tax, and PG&E put down $10 million to beat back a public power measure in 2008.
As those consulting their Voter Guides will know, Prop V would impose a tax of one cent per-ounce on sugary beverages. Or rather, if you're in the beverage industry, on groceries: The industry has repeatedly argued that grocery operations will raise costs of other items to compensate for whatever losses might ensue when soda is taxed — staunchly referring to the sugary beverage tax as a grocery tax in campaign materials.
The American Beverage Association, whose biggest members are Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, are famously deep-pocketed. The East Bay Express cites the Center for Science in the Public Interest to note that the group has spent at least $67 million since 2008 to fight warning labels and soda taxes in 19 states. It's spending heavily in Oakland right now, where measure HH would impose a soda tax.
"There is no better way to understand the public health importance of soda taxes and warning labels than to see how much money Big Soda is willing to spend to oppose them," The Express quotes CSPI health promotion policy director Jim O'Hara as observing. "If those policies aren't going to work like Big Soda says they won't, why are they writing such massive checks?"
While a widely cited study conducted in Berkeley argued that a sugary drink tax in that city had led to a 21 percent decrease in soda consumption among low-income residents, a soda industry-funded study conducted by Brad Williams, who is working against Prop V and measure HH, begs to differ. “Without strong price signals, you’re not going to see a significant change in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which is the point of the tax,” he told the Chronicle, arguing that the negligible difference in cost won't have its intended deterrent effect.
“A phony study paid for by the soda industry can’t sugarcoat the objective science that proves soda taxes reduce soda consumption and improve the health of kids with no impact on businesses or the price of groceries,” is how soda tax campaign spokesperson Dan Newman characterized Williams's study to the Chronicle.
Challenged to explain why customers should care, if as Williams suggests price differences are too small to change soda drinkers' behavior, Williams argued that "When there’s a tax of this size on the distribution of sodas, it’s going to create quite a challenge for the customers of the soda industry — small grocers, large grocers, restaurants. ... That’s a problem.”
Related: The Soda Lobby Is Using Bernie Sanders In Fight Against Soda Tax, And Sanders Is Pissed