Legislators in California have their sights set on making residents of the state healthier by instating five bills that target a favorite of children and adults alike: sugary beverages.
One of the proposed bills, Assembly Bill 138 by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, would impose a statewide tax on sugary drinks sold in California. According to the legislation, the state would use the revenue from the drink tax to contribute funds to programs that combat diabetes and other health conditions. The tax would apply to a variety of sugary drinks that legislators view as a danger to public health.
“Drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks and energy drinks and sweet teas contribute to a number of very serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity. These conditions are disproportionately felt in low-income communities,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland.
And people in the U.S. consume more than twice the amount of sugar per day than they are supposed to.
Researchers have found that these drinks not only put consumers at risk of conditions like obesity and diabetes, but they also put their teeth at risk, with energy drinks being one of the biggest culprits. Exposure to energy drinks such as Monster® and Red Bull® resulted in twice as much enamel loss as exposure to sports drinks such as Powerade® and Gatorade®.
Assemblyman Bonta proposed another piece of legislation in the recent package, Assembly Bill 764. This bill would ban soda companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo from offering manufacturer’s coupons to partner distributors, bottlers, or retailers. Supporters of the bill reason that these coupons often lower prices of sweetened beverages for consumers, adding to the overconsumption of the drinks.
The other bills target the sugary beverages as they are presented to consumers. The measures include a ban on retailers placing sugar-sweetened drinks near checkout counters, a restriction of the sale of sugary drinks in cups larger than 16 fluid ounces at locations with self-service soda machines, and a mandate to include a health warning label on sugar-sweetened beverages.
According to Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, these bills are meant to help the low-income communities and communities of color that the soda industry targets with its low prices. Chiu also said that the bills are for the one in four adults in California who are obese. While this statistic is lower than the national one in three adults who are considered to be obese, the California number has increased by 40% over the last 20 years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite drinking sugar-sweetened beverages as a behavior connected to obesity as well as kidney disease, gout, and disease in the body’s second biggest organ, the liver.
The bills have faced some backlash, particularly the statewide tax on sugary beverages. The beverage industry has vowed to fight the tax.
“These kinds of regressive taxes are not supported by the people of California because they place an unfair burden on working families and neighborhood businesses already struggling with the state’s high cost of living,” said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association.
Recent studies have shown that taxes on sugary drinks in other parts of the country aren’t quite as effective as legislators promise. Within two months of a similar tax going into place, Philadelphia residents were about 40% less likely to drink sugary beverages every day than people living elsewhere. However, soda sales just outside of Philadelphia’s borders increased by 38%. This avoidance of the tax not only allowed residents to still buy cheaper soda, but Philadelphia’s tax collection revenues fell about 15% short of the projections.
If the California bills go through, legislators expect to raise billions of dollars annually for the state. Despite the tax’s questionable effect in other cities, the bills have significant support in California. Both the California Dental Association and the California Medical Association are backing all five measures in the package.