Bay Area students react to Berkeley's new soda tax
Despite powerful corporate opponents’ efforts to prevent a Bay Area soda tax from being passed, on Tuesday the city of Berkeley became the first city in the nation to place a tax on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages.
The tax, known as Measure D, will increase the cost of certain sweetened beverages by $0.01 per ounce.
Anti-tax advertisements across Berkeley focused on the idea that “Measure D is not what it seems.” Opponents stressed that the measure failed to include milk products and 100-percent fruit juices, which can contain more twice the amount of sugar of other taxed beverages.
Beverage companies spent nearly $1.5 million fighting the proposal.
Benjamin Feiner, a third year economics student at UC Berkeley and former city council liaison for the Associated Students of the University of California, believes that the debates surrounding the tax have served as a political indicator of whether or not “big money can conquer big ideas in our democracy.”
According to Feiner, opponents of Measure D made unfounded claims throughout their campaign that low-income communities would be harmed by the soda tax and that the revenue will be handled irresponsibly by administrators.
“The only thing the soda companies care about is their bottom line,” Feiner said. “The “No on Measure D” campaign was funded by soda companies that poured money — over $20 per voter — into a campaign whose main goal was to intentionally mislead people.”
While Leo Samuelson, a computer science student at the City College of San Francisco, says that he understands the good intentions behind — and possible health benefits of — the tax, he did not think it should pass.
“It’s ridiculous to nickel-and-dime people for things like this,” said Samuelson. “It takes spending power away from consumers — especially the poor and underprivileged, who I see drinking soda the most. I think people should be able to do what they want, and not be penalized on something as harmless as soda.”
Claire Chiara, a junior at UC Berkeley and president of the Berkeley College Republicans, predicts that working-class families will either switch to diet sodas or absorb the tax in their limited disposable income as prices rise.
“Measure D supporters can claim the tax will not be passed on to the consumers, but their claims simply aren’t true,” said Chiara. “Low-income communities don’t have the ability to switch to healthier, more expensive items such as coconut water.”
The revenue from the tax will first go to the city’s general fund, before a panel of experts appointed by the Berkeley City Council makes recommendations on its specific use.
“I don’t think it’s a misconception to say that ‘Measure D is not what it seems,’” admitted Josh Cohen, a senior at UC Berkeley. “But I’d ask whether voting no because the measure is imperfect is worth the societal costs in increased obesity and disease. In my opinion, it definitely isn’t.”
Health concerns have long been associated with sugary drinks. New research claims that drinking a 20-ounce soda once a day can age cells as much as smoking can.
Cohen thinks that increasing the cost of an unhealthy life choice will lower its prevalence.
“It won’t harm poorer families, or struggling college students economically,” Cohen added. “They can choose to drink more water instead.”