California lawmakers have shelved a measure to outlaw “Big Gulp”-style sodas to avoid dragging down the rest of a package of bills that sponsors say is aimed at reducing obesity, including a soda tax and health warning labels on sugary drinks.
Among half a dozen measures proposed in February to address health effects from sugary drinks, the large-soda ban drew some of the heaviest opposition from business groups. Hours after it was shelved, the Assembly Health Committee voted 8 to 5 on Tuesday night to approve a soda fee bill and send it on toward the Assembly floor.
Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) said he would wait until next year to pursue his measure banning stores and restaurants from selling unsealed sugary drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.
Chiu’s proposal to outlaw the sale of large unsealed sodas had drawn strong opposition from business groups including the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Assn. In a statement, Chiu said that he pulled the measure after deciding “to make our bill a two-year effort to give us time to engage in constructive dialogue.”
“Make no mistake, the disease and suffering created by sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the most pressing public health issues of our time and must be addressed,” he added. “Truly resolving this issue will be a multi-year conversation, and I look forward to the conversation.”
The American Beverage Assn., a chief opponent of the bill, welcomed its shelving and said the measure was not supported by Californians.
“We remain committed to working with the Legislature on effective ways to address its budgetary and public health concerns and to ensure that food and beverages remain affordable for all Californians,” said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the association.
The Chamber of Commerce and 7-Eleven Inc. said that educating the public would have a greater impact on consumption than capping drink sizes, while theater owners said larger sizes make economic sense for families going to the movies.
The California Retailers Assn. said banning large drinks would not reduce sugar consumption “because consumers will simply refill their containers more frequently than what would have been necessary if they had a container larger than 16 ounces,” according to an analysis by staff for the Assembly Health Committee.
Another bill pulled from committee by its author Tuesday would have prohibited stores from selling sugar-sweetened beverages near checkout stands, where consumers make last-minute purchases.
However, the legislative panel supported a proposal by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) that would add a tax of 2 cents per fluid ounce to raise up to $3 billion annually for public health programs. The fee would add 24 cents to the cost of a 12-ounce can of a sugary drink.
“The science is overwhelming. California is facing a public health crisis,” Bloom told the committee. “Sugary drinks are uniquely unhealthy.”
Beverage industry officials told the committee that the consumption of sugary drinks is down as they offer more options that include low-calorie sodas.
Republican lawmakers including Assemblyman Heath Flora of Ripon said a higher tax is not warranted, citing lack of exercise as a contributor to health issues.
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) disagreed.
“These policies work to decrease consumption and make communities healthier,” he said.