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San Francisco voters defeat tax on sugary drinks

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / SEPTEMBER 2011
    High fructose corn syrup is listed as an ingredient on a can of soda. Scientists have used imaging tests to show for the first time that fructose
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SAN FRANCISCO >> San Francisco voters defeated a measure on Tuesday that would have taxed sodas and other sugary drinks to fight obesity and related diseases.

The measure to levy the two-cents an ounce tax fell short of the two-thirds support needed to pass.

Voters in nearby Berkeley, however, were favoring a similar soda tax.

San Francisco joined more than 30 other cities and states that previously defeated soda-tax proposals at the ballot box.

"Tonight, San Franciscans have made it clear that they can decide for themselves what to eat and drink," said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the opposition campaign

Berkeley, known for its liberal politics, could be the first in the country to approve such a ballot measure if a simple majority of voters approves.

With 7 percent of the votes counted in the famously liberal California city, nearly three-fourths had been cast in favor of imposing a one-cent an ounce tax on soft drinks.

"We’re saying no to Big Soda," Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said as results came in. "We’re saying that Berkeley and the rest of the country need to pay attention that soda is such a destructive product."

Salazar, the spokesman for the more than $10 million opposition campaign in Berkeley and San Francisco funded by soft-drink manufacturers, argued the Berkeley vote meant little nationally.

"Berkeley is very eclectic. It doesn’t look like Anytown USA," he said.

Heavy advertising on radio, television and the internet by the $76 billion U.S. soft-drink industry made the San Francisco soda-tax proposal the second-most expensive campaign involving a ballot initiative in city history. Supporters of the San Francisco tax had collected $230,000 for their effort, mostly in small donations.

In Berkeley, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — with an $85,000 contribution — was among the supporters who ponied up a total of $135,000 to encourage voters to pass the soda tax. The soda industry gathered $1.4 million to fight the Berkeley soda tax.

Bloomberg saw a court battle waged by the soda industry defeat his own effort to impose a limit on soft-drink sizes in New York City.

The California Legislature has made at least six attempts to impose some kind of tax on sweetened beverages, all of which failed.

Supporters of such taxes say soda is a main culprit in rising obesity rates and related diseases including diabetes. They hope the tax will reduce consumption.

The American Beverage Association has portrayed the soda tax as driving up the cost of groceries for low-income families. Studies show that people with less education drink twice as many soft drinks as consumers with a college education.

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