California seeks soda tax, limits on sugary drinks

A group of five California lawmakers announced a number of bills to encourage consumers to buy less soda and other sugary beverages such as energy drinks, sweet teas and sports drinks and include a statewide tax on sugary drinks.

The California Medical Association and the California Dental Association backed five bills introduce by the group of lawmakers on February 20th.

The new measures want to cap the size of sugary drinks sold in unsealed containers at restaurants and grocery stores at 16 fluid ounces; label sugary drinks with a warning about their health risk; prohibit supermarkets, convenience stores and retail stores from displaying sugary drinks near the checkout counter; bar soda companies from offering promotional deals to stores to lower the price of sugary drinks for customers and tax sugary drinks to pay for programs that offset their health effects.

At a Capitol news conference, the California lawmakers cited a public health crisis as the reason to present the bills.

“Drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks and energy drinks and sweet teas contribute to a number of very serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, during a press conference on Wednesday.

“Big Soda has profited off of life-threatening disease and suffering for too long,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who introduced the bill banning large sodas.

Assembly Bill 138 by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica would create a tax on sodas and other sugary drinks sold in the state and use revenue to help fund programs to combat diabetes and other health conditions.

Last year, the legislature voted down a similar “health impact fee” measure by Bloom that would have added a tax on sugary drinks, including certain canned soda drinks.

“These kinds of regressive taxes are not supported by the people of California because they place an unfair burden on working families and neighborhood businesses already struggling with the state’s high cost of living,” said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association.

“We are committed to working with the legislature on effective ways to address its budgetary and public health concerns and to ensure that food and beverages remain affordable for all Californians,” said the ABA spokesman to CNBC.

California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Julian Canete pushed for better health education instead of a tax, adding soda makers have already discouraged over-consumption.