California made history in Tuesday's midterm elections, but it's only going to affect your fridge. Berkeley just passed a law taxing soda and other sugary drinks, and is the first city in the nation to enforce such legislation. The law, known as Measure D, will place a 1-cent-an-ounce tax on sodas, energy drinks, sweetened iced teas, and other beverages with high sugar contents. The move reflects Berkeley's ingenuity and ability to make change as multiple other cities have tried to pass similar measures but failed. And if Berkeley's track record for trendsetting is any indication, the soda tax might catch on elsewhere soon.
Measure D passed in a landslide decision that saw more than three-quarters of the votes supporting the law, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. It had only needed a majority of votes to pass. So how will this new tax affect Berkeley residents? Apparently, soda consumers won't feel too much of a change. The tax will be paid by distributors, not customers, and will impact businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $100,000. These distributors will have to pay about 12 cents more for each can of soda and an additional 68 cents for a two-liter bottle.
Supporters of Measure D, who included the Berkeley Dental Society and the Berkeley City Council and school board, cite the myriad of health problems associated to consuming sugary drinks. Not only do these beverages contribute to America's obesity epidemic, but they are also linked to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, tooth decay, and gout. For many cities, a law like Measure D is common sense.
In New York City, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had tried to enforce a similar law that would have banned large-size sugary drinks from restaurants and eateries. It failed to pass, however, when a state appeals court blocked the proposed law, ruling it unconstitutional. Bloomberg didn't give up his anti-soda ambitions, however, and instead jumped on Berkeley's bandwagon. According to his senior aide, Howard Wolfson, Bloomberg contributed $370,000 to support Measure D, funding television ads and donating directly to the Yes on Measure D campaign.
Meanwhile, opponents of the tax argued that the measure had too many loopholes and not enough safeguards, since it exempted sugary juices, chocolate milk, and diet sodas. And retailers could still purchase non-taxed beverages from outside of the city.
But for now, Measure D is helping to change the way Americans think about sugary beverages, and the tax could catch on in other cities just like some of Berkeley's previous measures. For example, Berkeley passed a law requiring restaurants to have non-smoking sections in 1977 that spread through the nation. The city also redesigned its curbs in the 1970s to allow better access for wheelchairs, which also caught on nationwide. Vicki Alexander, co-chair of Measure D's campaign group, also referenced curbside recycling and public school food policies in her statement announcing the law's passing, saying that "Berkeley has a proud history of setting nationwide trends."
Sorry, soda lovers, but Berkeley's historic decision might spell the beginning of the end for sugary drinks. Images: Getty Images (2)