Home / Blog / Article


October 30 2013

San Francisco: The Next Sugary Beverage Battle

Patrice J. Lee

San Francisco is about to be hit with a new nanny state regulation. In an effort to curb the consumption of sugary beverages, officials want to add a special tax on certain drinks.

According to reports, the levy won’t be a flat fee but a two-cent-per-once charge for any drink with more than 25 calories and comprised of less than half juice. The bigger the drink the more each consumer will have to pay.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen efforts like this before in other parts of California and most famously from the biggest nanny state mayor Michael Bloomberg, who unilaterally banned sugary drinks in the Big Apple.

ABC News reports:

A proposed measure would add a special tax to sugary beverages, but the proposal is different from a similar ballot measure that failed in Richmond last year.

The idea is simple -- the bigger the drink, the more taxes you pay. It would be 2 cents per ounce for all sugar-sweetened beverages. That includes soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and bottled Frappuccinos.

"It's not a nanny state at all; we're not banning anything," San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener said.

Wiener says the nation's rising obesity rate inspired him to come up with the proposal, which will ultimately need the approval of two-thirds of San Francisco voters.

"We have taxed alcohol for a long time, so it's not out of the ordinary to tax products that have some negative side effects," Wiener said.

As you can imagine, this sin tax will add up pretty quickly. The estimated $31 million is expected to go toward nutrition, health and physical fitness programs. Sounds admirable but what would happen if San Franciscans were able to keep that $31 million in their own pockets?

Health groups are lining up behind the measure in what is expected to be a big battle against formidable foes in the beverage industry:

The Hospital Council of Northern and Central California and other health groups have already endorsed the idea of a soda tax. Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a UCSF professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics, studied the potential effects of a national tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

"We concluded that adding a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages could potentially prevent 240,000 cases of diabetes per year, and additionally avoid 100,000 cases of heart disease, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 deaths over the next decade," she said.

I’ve seen questionable “scientific” studies before but the research behind this proposal is laughable. How are they able to predict that this ban will prevent almost a quarter of a million cases of diabetes? Many contributing factors can trigger the onset of diabetes including genetics. To isolate Slurpees, Cokes and Frappuccinos as the culprits is not credible.

Mr. Wiener’s insistence that this is not a nanny state measure is off base.  When a person denies being what people characterize them as, the immediate assumption is that is exactly what they are. In this case, San Francisco is acting very much like a nanny state. Just because they are not proposing a ban on all sugary drinks doesn’t matter. They are using their coercive taxation power to control the legal consumption choices of regular Americans because they think they know what’s best for each person. This kind of alarmist behavior is not new to this area. Fast food restaurants are already prohibited from putting free toys in kids’ meals that are high in fat, salt and sugar and plastic bags have been banned for a decade.

Don’t let the seeming innocuousness of this proposal fool you: it should be taken seriously. Freedom is not lost in one fell swoop but marginal erosions over time.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
Follow us