SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — In a bellwether blow to the soda industry, voters in four U.S. cities passed soda tax measures by large margins on Tuesday, putting the industry on notice that its days of peddling high-sugar drinks may soon be over.
With all precincts reporting, San Francisco's Measure V passed with 62 percent of the vote, and Oakland's Measure HH passed with 61 percent. In tiny Albany, just north of Oakland, a resounding 71 percent of voters approved Measure O1.
In Boulder, Colorado, voters passed Measure 2H with 54 percent approval.
Although revenue from the taxes will be filtered into each city's general fund, city officials are expected to allocate the money toward public health programs.
"This was an incredible victory for health and an astonishing repudiation of big soda and its tactics," said David Goldberg, vice president of communications for Healthy Food America. "People are much more interested in protecting their own and their kids' health, and it's a real turning point."
Researchers at Harvard and Columbia project the incidence of diabetes will fall by 4 percent over a year under the penny-per-ounce taxes in Oakland and San Francisco, and by 3 percent in Albany, which also passed a penny tax. In Boulder, where residents will pay a 2-cents-per-ounce premium, researchers project the incidence of diabetes will fall by 10 percent over a year.
The four cities join Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia in levying the taxes. Berkeley became the first city in the nation to pass a soda tax in 2014, and Philadelphia joined the fray earlier this year.
The tax seems to be working in Berkeley. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that soda consumption fell by 21 percent in the city's low-income neighborhoods four months after the tax took effect, and water consumption rose by 63 percent.
"Our hope is that more people will understand that too much sugar is associated with disease and ill health," Goldberg said of the taxes.
The American Beverage Association, the soda industry's trade group, worked overtime to defeat the measures. The group spent $30 million and launched an aggressive ad campaign featuring small, minority grocers in poor neighborhoods to convince voters that the taxes will raise food prices, decimate the budgets of low-income families and put small grocers out of business.
Despite an acrimonious campaign, the trade group struck a conciliatory note on Wednesday.
"We respect the decision of voters in these cities," the group said in a statement, adding that it hopes to work with public health advocates to "change behavior."
The industry may have no choice. Goldberg said momentum is building in six states, including in Alabama and Illinois, to pass soda taxes at the state level even before Tuesday's victory. The success of the ballot measures will add fuel to the fire, he said.
In October, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both announced plans to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks.
"Our energy remains squarely focused on reducing the sugar consumed from beverages," the beverage group said in its Wednesday statement. "We're driving this change across America, including communities with the highest rates of obesity. It's the hard work necessary for true and lasting change."
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