Californians Support Soda Tax

Californians Support Soda Tax

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A majority of Californians would support an additional tax on beverages that contain added sweeteners, according to a new Field Poll released Tuesday.

The telephone survey of 503 registered California voters, found that 56 percent support for the tax, which would include carbonated beverages like soda as well as iced tea, energy drinks and vitamin water.

But support was not universal. Although a majority of respondents from cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles supported the tax, only 43 percent of those in California’s Central Valley supported it.

“There are two Californias now,” Mark DiCamillo, senior vice president of the Field Poll, said. “The California coast tends to be made up of very Democratic constituents, whereas the Inland Empire tends to be much more conservative” and therefore more opposed to taxing.

The “Central Valley is known as the anti-tax capital,” said Harold Goldstein, director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), which paid for the poll.

“It’s not surprising that [their support] is low. Central Valley has the highest soda consumption” in California, Goldstein said.

But if Central Valley residents are loath to support a soda tax, they could also be the most likely to benefit from the revenue it generates.

Many of the communities in the Central Valley are rural and suffer a lack of clean water.

Yesenia Ayala, 21, lives in the small Central Valley town of Kettleman City, where the local drinking water supply has been contaminated for years.

“There are high levels of arsenic” in the water, she said. “And it just doesn’t taste that great.”

Ayala supports the tax, even though it could cost her and her family more. “When I go into a store I can grab a 32 ounce soda for a dollar,” she said. “But a bottle of water is, what, $2.35?”

Because sweetened drinks are often much less expensive than other healthier drinks like bottled water, a majority of children in Fresno, Merced and Kern Counties have a soda or more a day, said Goldstein.

These “communities rely on soda as a safer, cheaper alternative” to unsafe water, said Laurel Firestone of Community Water Center in nearby Visalia.

They oppose the soda tax because “they are concerned that they will be [economically] impacted before new and safe water would be available,” Firestone said.

“Drinkable water is an issue,” Veva Isla-Hooker, Project Coordinator at Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program said. “They have to buy bottled water, which is often costlier than soda.”

For Ayala’s family to get clean water, they need to travel 30 minutes to Lenmoore, where they fill up gallon water jugs. But since it is so far away, Ayala and her family only get water when they go grocery shopping.

The arsenic that is present in Ayala’s water is naturally occurring, but since it is still harmful to drink, an arsenic treatment plant was built to filter the water. However, the plant is currently $100,000 in debt and can’t afford to operate.

Residents of Kettleman City are not only concerned about the presence of arsenic in their water, but also about the close proximity of Waste Management’s Kettleman Hills Facility, a municipal and hazardous waste landfill. Residents link birth defects and health issues to water and air contaminated by the facility.

Senator Dean Florez has introduced legislation promoting a tax on sugary drinks into the California State Senate. The legislation, which is scheduled for a hearing in Sacramento Tuesday, would impose a one cent tax per teaspoon of added caloric sweetener.

The Field Poll asked respondents how the would like the funds from the tax to be distributed, and 84 percent said they would like the money to support healthier food for children in schools; 84 percent supported providing more active physical education programs; and 82 percent supported insuring that communities have access to clean drinking water.

Under Florez’s bill, all monies generated by the tax would be deposited into a Children's Health Promotion Fund, which would in turn distribute grants to local school districts for childhood obesity prevention programs.

"Their definition of childhood obesity programs is not super specific," Firestone said. In places where there isn't safe drinking water as an alternative to sugary drinks, it's possible that revenue could be used to clean up the water and give Kettleman City residents healthier drinking options.

Across the country, 15 to 20 other states are considering a soda tax. New York City is taking it a step further by proposing the Healthy Schools Act, which would ban the sale of “high-fat, high-sugar junk foods in schools,” according to a February press release.

Ayala said that at any family barbeque, soda can always be found before water. “It’s just the way of living," she said. We got used to it.”

The Field Poll: California's Diversity a Mixed Blessing