Sugar fix

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A resolution to place a sugary beverage tax on the November ballot was introduced at the Feb. 4 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The two-cents-per-ounce tax would be levied at the point of distribution, with the ultimate goal of reducing the consumption of sodas and other sugary drinks to combat obesity in San Francisco. The tax, sponsored by Supervisors Scott Wiener, Eric Mar, Malia Cohen, John Avalos, and David Chiu, is similar to a resolution made two years ago in Richmond.

But Richmond voters ultimately voted it down by 66 percent, so how's San Francisco any different?

In 2012, the American Beverage Association hired Chuck Finnie of San Francisco public relations group BMWL and Partners. The association funded the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, which reached out to Latino communities and others, saying it was a tax on the poor.

Now Finnie is back as spokesperson for Stop Unfair Beverage Taxes — Coalition for an Affordable City, here in San Francisco.

"It's a shallow argument, that it's a regressive tax on poor people," said Cohen, a sponsor of the ordinance. "What is it costing poor people? Literally it's costing them their lives."

Jeff Ritterman, a cardiologist and former Richmond City Council member, was a lead proponent of the Measure N campaign in 2012. He's another actor from that campaign who's back now too, helping the supervisors craft their new strategy.

Last time around they were outspent, Ritterman admits. But campaign money is only one way San Francisco is taking a different tack in the upcoming sugar battle.

The supervisors are also proposing to dedicate the estimated $30 million in revenue that the tax will generate to a specific purpose. The funding would be divided between the SFUSD, the Department of Public Health, and the Recreation and Park Department for a mix of outdoor activities and nutrition education. In contrast, Measure N left allocation of new funding open-ended.

In Richmond, "they told people on the telephone I'd use it for trips around the world. It got as crazy as that," Ritterman said. "You get more support when you show you'll use it for children's health and physical activity."

Since the use of tax funds collected was a major concern for Finnie's group last time around, now that it's been addressed he should be happy, right?

"No," Finnie told the Guardian, flatly. "We disagree that singling out sugar sweetened beverages for special taxation has any merit whatsoever." 

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