On November 4, 2014, voters in Berkeley, California, passed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks and juices levied on distributors, known as Measure D. This tax, however, exempts sweetened milks, creamers, alcoholic drinks, infant formula, and juices with only natural sugar content.
Berkeley is the first city in the United States to have successfully passed such a measure. Thirty other cities have tried, including neighboring San Francisco, but so far have failed.
Advocates for the soda tax hope Berkeley will set the national standard, similar to how it did in the past with restricting smoking in bars and restaurants. Other cities may follow soon; in San Francisco, for example, a similar measure proposing to charge two-cents-per-ounce won a 54.5 percent majority. However, the failure of the proposal is attributed to the decision of its backers to specify how they intended to spend the tax revenue on public health, which necessitated a two-thirds super-majority under California’s voting rules.
Nonetheless, American Beverage Association spokesman, Christopher Gindlesperger, asserted that soda tax advocates have little support elsewhere. Roger Salazar, spokesman for the “No on [Measure] D” campaign, said “These types of taxes are ones that historically and predominantly have been rejected by voters. We don’t see that changing.” But as Howard Wofson, Bloomberg’s top political strategist put it, “There’s a greater understanding among voters and consumers that soft drinks are bad for you in a way that wasn’t true 10 or even five years ago.”
San Francisco, for one, is expected to put the issue back on the ballot next year or in 2016, this time without specific direction for the tax revenues, so that only a simple majority will be required for the measure to pass.