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The Sweet That Costs: San Francisco's "Soda Tax" Goes Further Than Soda 

Wednesday, Jun 25 2014

Coca-Cola is The Pause That Refreshes and The Real Thing. It also turns out to be extremely malleable. For decades it symbolized the Free West of handsome soldiers, white-suited soda jerks, and wholesome bathing beauties; this was the sort of thing worth razing the Berlin Wall to get your hands on.

Those days are long gone, but Coca-Cola still epitomizes the Free West — where we're free to drink ourselves into a slothful state of obesity and diabetes.

These things, too, go better with Coke.

Supervisor Scott Wiener has spearheaded a crusade that will culminate in voters' pending yea or nay on a "Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages to Fund Food and Health Programs." If two-thirds of San Francisco's November electorate wills it to be so, future purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages will carry a tax of two cents per ounce (this rate polled just as well as a penny per ounce, and carries a "more significant reduction factor"). Tax backers claim upwards of $31 million a year would sweeten the pot for city programs involving active recreation, school lunches, and other meritorious things.

That's a key point: Designating specific destinations for the funds will mandate the two-thirds vote; if Wiener's measure merely lumped the money into the city's general fund it'd require a mere majority. "We think it is absolutely the case we have a better chance of passing it at the two-thirds threshold," Wiener says, "because the voters will have confidence where the money is going."

The American Beverage Association-backed outfit targeting the proposal, meanwhile, has confidence voters will be unnerved when they realize just how many sugar-sweetened beverages there are. A list of more than 350 drinks is currently making the rounds. To the amazement of no one, three separate varieties of Mountain Dew stand to be taxed. More counter-intuitive: SoBe Berry Soy Blend, Glaceau VitaminWater Acai Blueberry Pomegranate, and Ocean Spray 100 Percent Cranberry Juice — which is at least some percent added sugar.

In fact, any drink in which at least 25 calories per 12 ounces are derived from added sweeteners falls under the aegis of the tax.

Of course, natural sugars are no healthier than added sugars; a San Franciscan shunted from taxed Sunny Delight to tax-exempt orange juice is consuming as much or more sugar and as many or more calories — and not surrendering his or her two cents per ounce to worthy causes.

Wiener, however, is hopeful most San Franciscans would switch to healthier drinks or simply guzzle fewer sugary beverages. As for the health of his legislation, he says most polls put it in the high 60s — around where it needs to be.

His opponents, however have a lot of sugar left to spend.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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