California Lawmakers Go After Soda Makers With 5-Pack of Bills

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Reigniting their fight against soda companies they claim are fattening Californians, state lawmakers introduced a five-pack of bills Wednesday that includes a new tax and a cap on soda sizes.

“The evidence overwhelmingly shows a direct link between obesity, diabetes and tooth decay and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, like sodas, energy drinks, sweet teas and sports drinks,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland.

At a Capitol press conference, the Democrats called for an as yet undetermined per-fluid ounce tax on sodas and other sugary drinks, limits on serving sizes, warning labels and a ban on soda manufacturer coupons. Their goal is to slash Californians’ consumption of sugary drinks and raise money for programs that fight obesity and diabetes.

“Big soda is the new big tobacco, and we’re here to address obesity, a growing public health crisis throughout California,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco. “We want to help you rethink your drink.”

American Beverage Association spokesman Steven Maviglio blasted the bills as unfair.

“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,” Maviglio said.

The new proposals come less than a year after former Gov. Jerry Brown gave the nation’s soda makers a reprieve by signing legislation that bans new grocery taxes at the local level through at least 2031. California cities like Berkeley, San Francisco and Oakland have already enacted soda taxes and several others were mulling similar proposals last summer.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature begrudgingly passed the bill in exchange for the soda industry dropping a ballot initiative that would have made it tougher for municipalities to pass new taxes. The American Beverage Association and the California Business Roundtable’s proposal would have raised the threshold for approving new local taxes from a simple majority to a two-thirds supermajority.

Many state Democrats accused the soda industry of blackmail and indicated a new statewide soda tax could be on the table come 2019.

Eight months later, the lawmakers seek not only a statewide soda tax, but a ban on mega-sized drinks like “Big Gulps” sold at convenience stores and movie theatres. The California Medical Association, California Dental Association and other public health advocates have quickly hopped on board.

But critics like Republican Assembly James Gallagher contend the taxes and size limits are needless and “Californians don’t want to be treated like children.”

“The stunning hypocrisy of Democrats should not be lost on anyone. They caved to big soda last year and these laws won’t stop obesity,” Gallagher said in a tweet.

The Democrats’ package includes:

Assembly Bill 138 would entail a tax, still to be determined, on sugar-sweetened beverages, with revenues going toward fighting diabetes, obesity and heart and dental disease. Any new tax will require two-thirds approval by both the state Senate and Assembly.

Assembly Bill 764 would bar soda companies from offering a manufacturer’s coupon or other promotional incentive on any sugar-sweetened beverage to their partnering manufacturers, distributors or retailers.

Assembly Bill 765 seeks to ban retailers from displaying sugary drinks near checkout aisles. The bill has been coined the “Health Checkout Aisles for Healthy Families Act.”

Assembly Bill 766, or California’s “Big Gulp” ban, would prohibit retailers from selling unsealed sugar-sweetened beverages over 16 fluid ounces.

Senate Bill 347 would require warning labels on containers of sugary drinks and warning signs near vending machines. Similar proposals have failed in the Legislature over the last several years. 

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