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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cheers to the Proposed Richmond Soda Tax

While reviewing an online article about the foods you should eat for younger skin, I chuckled when I thought, “Well, you certainly wouldn’t find soda on that list." The beneficial foods listed were: salmon, carrots, milk, almonds, safflower/sunflower oil, broccoli berries, spices, watermelon and, my favorite, dark chocolate – but no soda.

Then I thought about those forward-thinking members of the Richmond, CA, City Council. Last week, they voted 5-2 to put a soda tax measure on the ballot in November.

The sponsor of this soda tax, Councilman Jeff Ritterman, also happens to be a doctor. He points to soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks as the main cause of childhood obesity in Richmond. In fact, he point-blank said soda “is a major killer, and it will kill these young children unless we do something.”

If the voters get behind the soda tax, Richmond could become the first city in the nation to implement a tax on soda and other sugary beverages. And the projected $2-8 million in funds collected from the proposed tax would go to fight childhood obesity. They would be used for after-school sports programs, school gardens, health care for children with diabetes and healthier school meals -- all admirable and much-needed programs.

Of course, the American Beverage Association and grocers who would lose a bit of income and soda drinkers who would have to pay the penny-per-ounce tax are grousing about the unfairness of such a tax, calling it a tax on poor people. I would beg to differ. This is a tax to help poor people. First off, maybe someone with limited income would think twice about drinking all those sodas and switch to water. And can you imagine all the good the money from sodas could do for the youth of Richmond?

Let’s hope the people of Richmond will follow the lead of their City Council and vote to enact a soda tax to benefit the youth of their city. And then let’s hope that this is the beginning of a domino effect on the rest of the Bay Area.


1 comment:

Felix Hunziker said...

The trouble with this tax is that it's in a socioeconomically diverse city where the "wealthy" already shop outside Richmond leaving only those without means or mobility to pay higher prices at our one supermarket, corner stores, and fast-food joints. That's even worse than a simple regressive tax and extracting up to $8M annually from our most underserved neighborhoods is not helping the poor.

This tax places a fee on businesses instead of the soda drinkers. Richmond's food retailers, already struggling with tight margins, will have no choice but to distribute the added fees and labor among all their merchandise in order to remain competitive, which translates to higher prices for staples for our poorest residents. If they choose to risk driving away customers and raise only the cost of soda the higher price will do nothing to deter the consumption of sweetened beverages.

Richmond has many vacant storefronts and a shortage of grocery stores yet retail chains like Trader Joes, Safeway, Mi Pueblo either refuse to come here or have left town for neighboring cities. If we pass a tax that makes it even costlier to do business we can be assured that the shunning of Richmond will continue if this tax is passed.

Everyone agrees that the obesity epidemic is a very serious problem and must be addressed. Soda taxes on a State level, say on the supply-side where it's invisible to consumers, would be a smart way to generate an equitable revenue stream for retailer incentives, obesity education, and physical exercise opportunities for our youth. Taxing Richmond's poor is not the solution.