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Assembly Committee Squashes Soda Tax

A proposed 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages failed on Monday in the Assembly Committee on Health.

AB 1357, by Assembly member Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), would have established the Children and Family Health Promotion Program, raising $3 billion a year in soda taxes to spend on the prevention and treatment of diabetes and obesity.

“Diabetes is an epidemic,” Bloom said at Monday’s hearing. “Obesity and diabetes are costing the state billions every year in hospitalization and Medi-Cal costs. That’s not just insulin and syringes, it’s knee and hip replacements, it’s heart transplants, liver transplants — in fact, one estimate has it that 75 cents out of every health care dollar goes to maintenance or treatment of chronic metabolic disease.”

The number-one contributor to the state’s high rates of obesity and diabetes, he said, is the overconsumption of sugar. And the liquid sugar in soda and other sweetened beverages is a particular problem because it has no nutritional value, Bloom said.

The biggest concern for Dean Schillinger, a professor at UC-San Francisco who testified on Monday, is that many children now are starting to get so-called “adult-onset” diabetes.

“This has moved from a disease affecting our grandparents to one affecting our children,” Schillinger said.

The size of the state’s problem can be seen by looking at statistics from the decade-long war in Iraq and Afghanistan where, he said, about 1,500 American soldiers lost their limbs in the conflict.

“But in that same decade, 130,000 Californians lost their limbs to diabetes,” Schillinger said. “That’s the scale of this epidemic.”

Blaming soda drinks for the epidemic isn’t fair, said Lisa Katic, a dietician who runs the K Consulting lobbying firm.

“I think we can all agree that obesity and diabetes are serious and complex issues, but it’s overly simplistic to single out sugar-sweetened beverages as the driving cause,” Katic said.

“Identifying a comprehensive approach of prevention that identifies the multifactorial components to these serious health problems is needed,” she said. “Not finding a scapegoat, and not creating headlines.”

John Latimer, a lobbyist for the California Retailers Association, said the tax would ignore high-calorie foods like doughnuts while penalizing all sugar-sweetened drinks.

“Our industry is a part of the solution and we admit that,” Latimer said. “But we don’t accept that we are the driver, and that all of these other foods and beverages are not.”

The bill failed on a 6-10 vote. Future reconsideration of the bill was granted.

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