California restaurants and stores would be prohibited from selling “Big Gulp”-style sodas and consumers would face taxes on sugar-sweetened soft drinks under bills announced Wednesday by five state lawmakers to address a “public health crisis” of obesity in the Golden State.
The proposals include a ban on the sale of unsealed “sugar-sweetened beverage” portions larger than 16 ounces at food-service businesses, including restaurants with self-service soda fountains, stores such as 7-Eleven, and sports arenas.
“Big Soda has profited off of life-threatening disease and suffering for too long,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who introduced the bill banning large sodas. “California is taking common sense measures that shed light on the predatory practices of Big Soda and help consumers make healthier choices.”
Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) said at a Capitol news conference that the “beverage fee” he proposed for the third year in a row would help offset the cost to the healthcare system of sugar-related problems, including an increase in diabetes among young people. The soda industry has successfully fought past efforts to adopt a state tax in the Legislature. Bloom’s bill and Chiu’s legislation are supported by the California Medical Assn. and California Dental Assn.
“We have ignored this crisis for too long,” Bloom said. “We are standing on the edge of a cliff and addressing this health crisis requires a multi-pronged approach like the one you see today.”
Bloom has not yet decided the size of the fee, but noted that past proposals he has supported would have set a 2-cents-per-fluid-ounce tax, which would raise $2 billion annually. That would mean an additional 24 cents on the cost of a 12-ounce can.
Other bills proposed Wednesday include a reintroduction of a measure that failed last year to require health warnings on cans and bottles of suger-sweetened drinks, and one that would bar the soda industry from offering subsidies including discount coupons that encourage soda consumption. Health groups have also proposed an initiative for the 2020 ballot that would tax sodas at 2 cents per fluid ounce.
The proposals drew criticism Wednesday from the soda industry and Republican lawmakers including Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City).
“Californians don’t want to be treated like children,” Gallagher said in a statement. “Education – sure, let’s help people make healthier choices. But telling adults they can’t have a Big Gulp or banning soda from the checkout aisle is the kind of government intrusion that people can’t stand.”
The American Beverage Assn. has fought efforts by cities to create levies on sodas and says it has taken steps to reduce sugar in the American diet.
“Not only are those taxes not welcomed by the people of California, but repeated analysis confirms that these types of regressive taxes place an unfair burden on working families and neighborhood businesses already struggling with the state’s high cost of living,” said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the association.
In arguing that the poor would be hurt most by such a tax, he cited a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office this month that found the “burden of paying the tax would disproportionately fall on some groups relative to others.”
Chiu said there is a “public health crisis” and that one in four Californians is overweight or obese. He added that two decades ago a single serving of regular soda was 6.5 ounces, but today servings up to 20 ounces are available, which contain 165 more calories.
“The goal of our bill is to make people think twice about their choices,” Chiu said.
The proposed law is more expansive than one adopted in 2012 by the New York City Board of Health that barred restaurants from selling sugary drinks in containers that could hold more than 16 ounces.
A state court ruled the board lacked the power to impose the policy, but California officials said the ruling does not prevent their state from adopting a similar law.
The bills were introduced just months after the Legislature approved a 12-year ban on cities and counties imposing soda taxes.
That bill was approved reluctantly in exchange for a pledge from business groups to drop an initiative that would have required cities and counties to get supermajority approval from voters to raise any new taxes.