By July, more than 5.2 million residents of Chicago and its suburbs will begin seeing higher prices on sweetened drinks.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday passed its $4.9 billion budget – including a penny-per-ounce tax on bottles, cans and fountain drinks that are sweetened, such as soda, ice tea, lemonade and sports drinks. The tax also will be on diet colas and other drinks containing artificial sweeteners, but it excludes milk and medically necessary drinks.
The vote came a week after commissioners met for hours and heard from dozens of public speakers before agreeing to include the tax in the budget. And it comes on the heels of four successful ballot measures to impose so-called soda taxes. San Francisco and nearby cities of Oakland and Albany in California passed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax, while Boulder, Colorado, passed a 2-cent-tax.
Cook County officials estimate the new tax on sweetened drinks will raise $221 million annually, helping to bridge the county’s budget gap. In a statement, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the tax would put the county “on a stable financial footing for the next three fiscal years during which we will not have to approve any additional tax increases and allow us to double our investment in community-based, anti-violence initiatives.”
Health advocates believe the tax will help protect the county’s most vulnerable communities – both by reducing consumption of sugary beverages associated with diabetes, obesity and related chronic diseases and by cutting down health costs.
By next year, eight areas around the country will have sugary drink taxes.
Berkeley, California, voted in a tax in 2014. Then, the Navajo Nation included a drink tax in its overall “junk food” tax. This past summer, Philadelphia’s city council approved a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax, a move being challenged in court by the American Beverage Association.
Public health advocates say the tax, along with education campaigns, will be critical to reducing high rates of sugary drink consumption in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes 39 pounds of sugar a year from soda and other sweetened drinks.
“The World Health Organization released a report confirming the logic that taxing sugary drinks can reduce health risks,” AHA Chief Executive Officer Nancy Brown wrote in a recent opinion column in the Huffington Post. “We both agree that reductions in added sugars is an important step in the fight against diabetes, heart disease and obesity.”
A study presented during AHA’s Scientific Sessions 2016 showed that policy changes, coupled with community education efforts, led to a decline of nearly 20 percent of sales in Howard County, Maryland.
Among the findings: sales of sugar-sweetened soda fell by almost 20 percent by volume in 15 supermarkets in Howard County but remained stable in 17 comparison stores in southeastern Pennsylvania; sales of fruit-flavored beverages with added sugars fell about 15 percent and sales of 100 percent juice fell 15 percent.
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