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Can San Francisco succeed taxing soft drinks?

A few other California communities have tried to tax soft drinks only to be outspent by the beverage industry.

"Supervisor Scott Wiener issued a press release on Monday detailing the proposal, which will be added to the November 2014 ballot if successful. The legislation would introduce a two-cents-per-ounce tax, increasing the cost on an average can of soda by 24 cents. Wiener claims the tax would create an estimated $31 million annually that would be used to fund recreation and nutrition programs in schools and elsewhere."

Soda taxes have raised tricky objections in the past, with opponents citing government overreach and fears of a nanny state. Similar ballot initiatives failed miserably in the California cities of El Monte and Richmond -- just across the bay from San Francisco.

But polling suggests voters are sweetening on the idea.

A Field Poll survey found that only 40 percent of respondents supported a tax, but that number skyrocketed up to 68 percent when funds for the tax were earmarked for school nutrition and physical activity programs.

Unlike the failed tax in Richmond, Wiener's plan does just that.

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Weiner proposed a tax which will be on the 2014 ballot.

"If one soda tax proposal is good, is two even better?"

San Francisco supervisors think so: On Monday, three weeks after Supervisor Scott Wiener unveiled a proposal for a 2-cents-per-ounce sugary beverage tax, Supervisor Eric Mar announced his own tax proposal - and standing next to him was Wiener.

Mar, along with Supervisors Malia Cohen and John Avalos, has been working on a soda tax proposal with public health advocates for the past year.

The two proposals, however, are remarkably similar: Both target sugary-drink distributors, both impose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax, and both would use the estimated $30 million a year for health and nutrition programs to fight diabetes and other health issues associated with sodas, energy drinks and other sugary beverages.

Where they disagree is how the money would be spent. Wiener has proposed giving one-third to the school district, one-third to the Recreation and Park Department, and one third to the Department of Public Health. Mar is focused on making sure the people most affected by consuming sugary beverages - namely, people of color and those with low incomes - get the majority of the funding. He wants to see about half of it go to the school district to be used for nutrition and physical education programs and the other half to various city agencies and community groups that target those populations.

Mar said, all four supervisors will work together to boil down both proposals into one piece of legislation they plan to put before city voters next November. He and Wiener repeatedly stressed Monday how similar their legislation already is.

"Our approach is to build unanimous support at the Board of Supervisors," Mar said, calling the upcoming campaign a "David and Goliath battle," with the beverage industry. "We are building a coalition to win."

The beverage industry represented by the American Beverage Association is already gearing up for a fight, and supporters of the tax say they're expecting what they call "Big Soda" (in the vein of Big Oil and Big Tobacco) to spend millions or even tens of millions of dollars to quash their effort. Based on statements by Charles Finnie the Association Spokesperson, they intend to use the same strategy they have used in other cities: straw dog arguments and outright lies.

"Finnie also pointed out that the supervisors seem to be ignoring a study conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health in 2o09 after then-Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed a similar soda fee. The study found it would not raise enough money to make the administrative costs worth it, and Newsom dropped the plan.

Mar countered that the health department backs the new soda tax idea, which is structured differently than Newsom's was, and that the former mayor dropped the plan when he decided to run for governor.

Finnie also said UCSF researchers backing the San Francisco soda tax are biased because they have been longtime crusaders against added sugar in food and drinks.

That made Wiener froth like a shaken bottle of soda being opened.

"I seem to recall the tobacco industry attacking the scientists who showed that cigarettes are bad for you, and the oil industry attacking the scientists who research global warming," he said. "When it comes to the credibility on public health in San Francisco, I'll take UCSF over the beverage industry any day of the week."

The beverage industry never addresses the facts of the issue. They attack the messengers and generally use the kitchen sink defense -attack using everything.

Where is the beverage industry's sense of responsibility. They make millions but don't want to be responsible for the impact of their products: the impact on human health and the health of the environment.

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