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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Big Soda Is Spending Big Money Against Oakland Sugary Beverage Tax Proposal

By Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Aug 10, 2016 at 3:28 PM

Makers of soda pop, iced tea, energy drinks, and other beverages that medical researchers have linked to diabetes and tooth decay have already spent a massive sum of money in their effort to convince Oakland voters to reject a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. The proposed tax of one cent per fluid ounce will appear on the November ballot and would raise funds for public-health programs.

The American Beverage Association, a business lobbying group representing sugar-sweetened beverage manufacturers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsico, has already shelled out $747,267 on campaign consultants and advertisements against the proposed Oakland tax, according to recently disclosed campaign-finance records.

Supporters of the Oakland tax measure, mostly dentists, doctors and public officials, have only spent $23,297 — a mere 3 percent of what "Big Soda" has put up.

"The sugar-sweetened beverage tax campaign is grassroots," said Oakland Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington, a supporter of the measure. The councilmember said she's confident that, despite already being outspent 32 to 1 by the beverage industry, Oakland voters will approve the tax.

"But what we’re up against is a campaign that’s willing to lie," Campbell Washington said about the industry's massive ad blitz. She explained that the soft-drink industry is "bombarding" Oakland voters with deceptive mail, television, and social-media ads that claim the tax will increase the prices of eggs, bread, and milk. "They’re flat out lying about what this is," said Campbell Washington.

  • Screenshot from a commercial produced by the "No Oakland Grocery Tax" campaign.

One recent commercial by the beverage industry features Temur Kwajha, the owner of the Marwa Market, a halal grocery store in North Oakland. Kwajha tells viewers that "the last thing Oakland needs is a tax on groceries."

In the video, Kwajha scoops walnuts for customers, cooks bread, and points to containers of pistachio nuts — all food items that wouldn't be taxed if the measure passes. The commercial doesn't depict any sugar-sweetened beverages, the actual items that would be taxed.

Another commercial features a worker at the Long Hing Supermarket in Oakland Chinatown. Foods depicted in the ad include fish and fresh vegetables — none of which would be taxed if the measure passes. No sugar-sweetened beverages are shown in the 30-second clip.

All $600,000 raised this year to oppose the Oakland sugar-sweetened beverage tax has been contributed by the American Beverage Association California PAC. According to state records, just five companies are funding the ABA's California PAC: Coca Cola, Pepsico, Dr. Pepper, Red Bull, and Sunny Delight.

"Big Soda" is fighting a similar proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in San Francisco that will be voted on this November. The industry has already spent $631,935 to defeat the tax measure there.

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