RICHMOND, Calif. - A Richmond councilman is trying to persuade voters to make the city the nation€™s first to tax businesses that sell any type of sugar-sweetened beverages, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
"Big Soda is where Big Tobacco was decades ago," said Councilman Jeff Ritterman, former chief of cardiology at Kaiser Richmond Medical Center, the main proponent of the measure that will appear on Richmond€™s November ballot. "They're a formidable enemy with a ton of money at stake. They know that Richmond might knock over the first domino."
Ritterman is working to curb consumption of these drinks by making them less affordable to consumers.
The beverage industry is watching closely the Richmond fight, which advocates of the proposed tax say would reverberate strongly throughout the nation.
"The passage of a soda tax in Richmond would be a game-changer in obesity prevention both in California and across the country," said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. "All eyes are on Richmond."
If voters support the measure, Goldstein said, "there will be a deluge of cities that will replicate it, (and) the soda industry knows that."
Introduced last year, Richmond€™s soda tax fight is receiving a renewed spotlight, following the announcement by New York Mayor Bloomberg to limit the size of soft drinks.
Those in favor of the tax increase say that economists have estimated that a penny-per-ounce soda tax would reduce consumption by 10% to 15% over a decade.
Richmond€™s tax would affect all businesses in the city that sell any drink containing added sugars, including fruit smoothies, fountain drinks, soft drinks, sweetened teas and energy drinks. Markets, food stands, food trucks and restaurants would need to calculate the tax based on inventory figures.
Merchants are expected to pass along the tax to consumers. Accordingly, a 16-ounce bottle of soda that sells for 99 cents today would increase to $1.15.
Advocates say that the tax is expected to generate $2 million to $8 million annually, and a companion city measure has been drawn up, urging the city to spend the money on recreation, nutrition education, and anti-obesity programs.
The American Beverage Association opposes the Richmond proposal and has hired a consulting firm to help organize an anti-tax campaign. "We are confident that as voters become aware of who is going to pay this tax and where the money is going to go, they are going to vote no," said Chuck Finnie, a spokesman for the group. "Not a single penny will go to anti-obesity programs, but the proponents are misrepresenting it to say it will€¦It goes to the general fund, and will help close the deficit."
Retailers and restaurants also strongly oppose the tax, said Chamber of Commerce CEO Judy Morgan. "We have a lot of small businesses, family-owned businesses who are going to be hit hard," she said.