The Berkeley tax will put one cent on every ounce of sugar

The Berkeley tax will put one cent on every ounce of sugar

The results are in - and it's bad news for the US soft drinks industry. 

Despite the millions of dollars spent by lobby groups backing a No vote, three in four residents of the Californian city of Berkeley yesterday approved a decision to implement a US$0.01-per-ounce tax on sodas and other sugary drinks. Supporters immediately hailed the victory, the first of its kind in the US, and said the battle to limit soda consumption now passes to other cities around the country.

“Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association (ABA) can no longer count on spending their way to victory,” health activists the Centre for Science in the Public Interest said today. “But, they better keep their chequebooks out: We expect that cities, towns, and state legislatures all over the country are taking a close look at what happened in Berkeley and many will be readying similar campaigns to tax soda in the years to come.”

These supporters, however, will find that it's not as simple as that.

As the ABA pointed out today, Berkeley, with a large student presence, is hardly representative of the rest of the US, and is often described as the most liberal place in the country. Indeed, just across the bay, San Francisco failed to pass a similar tax, though the voting threshold was two-thirds instead of a simple majority.

In the past, other US cities such as Richmond and El Monte have resolutely turned their backs on soda tax when given the chance to decide, and residents in New York city rejected a ban on large sugary beverages.

What yesterday's outcome does give other anti-sugar activists across the US, however, is a blueprint for how to go about defeating the giants of the soda industry and, no doubt, some small measure of hope that it is possible.

Perhaps, more importantly, it gives their cause plenty of media oxygen (which, for some, activists is the main point of their campaigns) - as well as a tiny, size-two foot in a door that now may be impossible to close.