Politics & Government

California voters favor taxes, labels for sugary drinks

Soda has been a frequent target of efforts to reduce consumption by taxing or putting health warnings on the drinks.
Soda has been a frequent target of efforts to reduce consumption by taxing or putting health warnings on the drinks. The Associated Press

Proponents of limiting the consumption of sugary drinks have mostly fallen short in the political arena in recent years, but Californians are largely supportive of their efforts.

A new Field Poll, sponsored by The California Endowment, found that overwhelming majorities of voters favor taxing and putting safety warnings on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, proposals that advocates argue would help reduce health conditions such as diabetes.

“The public would like action on these, both from government and from the beverage industry, but so far at least, there’s been very little.” said Mark DiCamillo, director of The Field Poll. “It’s an issue that the public is very much ahead of its leadership.”

Seventy-eight percent of respondents approved of labeling sugary drinks with a cautionary message, stating that studies show daily consumption contributes to diabetes, obesity and tooth decay, including 54 percent who strongly favored the idea. Only 20 percent were opposed.

Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, has pursued labeling legislation in each of the last two years. After getting his bill out of the Senate in 2014 with a bare majority, a follow-up quickly stalled in committee. Monning has elected not to revive the bill this session.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents supported taxing the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages to fund school nutrition and physical activity programs, while 31 percent opposed. Nearly half said they strongly favored a soda sales tax.

Lawmakers have regularly introduced legislation to tax sugary drinks for decades, including four times since 2010, but under the withering opposition of the beverage industry, none has ever made it very far.

Frustrated proponents have lately turned instead to local jurisdictions. In November 2014, three-quarters of Berkeley voters passed a first-in-the-nation soda tax of one cent per ounce; that same election, soft-drink companies spent more than $9 million to defeat a similar measure in San Francisco, which joined failed efforts in 30 other cities and states.

The debate was revived in Davis this week when the City Council elected not to place a tax on the June ballot.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff