Big Soda scores vic­tory as Chicago-area tax re­pealed

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Govern­ment of­fi­cials in Chicago’s home county voted on Wed­nes­day to re­peal a tax on sug­ary drinks, a win for a soda in­dus­try that has faced crit­i­cism from public health of­fi­cials who link ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion to health epi­demics like obe­sity.

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO — Govern­ment of­fi­cials in Chicago’s home county voted on Wed­nes­day to re­peal a tax on sug­ary drinks, a win for a soda in­dus­try that has faced crit­i­cism from public health of­fi­cials who link ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion to health epi­demics like obe­sity.

The 15- 2 vote to end the tax start­ing Dec. 1 was largely ex­pected after pre­lim­i­nary ac­tion to do so by com­mis­sion­ers in Cook County, Illi­nois, but was sig­nif­i­cant as the first such move since a string of US cities last year voted in fa­vor of such taxes.

The penny-per-ounce sug­ary drinks tax, which nar­rowly passed in Novem­ber 2016, has been un­der at­tack from the soda lobby, re­tail­ers and oth­ers, who said it put an un­fair bur­den on the county’s poor­est cit­i­zens and ham­pered lo­cal busi­nesses.

Last year saw a num­ber of vic­to­ries for public health ad­vo­cates in fa­vor of sugar and soda taxes, which are de­signed to re­duce con­sump­tion of sug­ary drinks and boost lo­cal rev­enues, from Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, to Philadel­phia. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which has backed such levies, said in a re­port this week that child and teen obe­sity has soared ten­fold in four decades.

There have been sim­i­lar pushes across the world. Mex­ico in­tro­duced a tax in 2014, and the United King­dom is rolling out a sim­i­lar levy.

Re­peal is not un­heard of, but this marks the first time a ma­jor US re­gion has walked back from an im­ple­mented tax since public health efforts gath­ered pace in 2014- 2016. In 2010, Washington state re­pealed soda and candy taxes.

The Amer­i­can Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents soda man­u­fac­tur­ers like Coca-Cola Co., Pep­siCo, Inc. and Dr. Pep­per Snap­ple Group, Inc., ap­plauded the move, say­ing it sig­naled a mo­men­tum shift.

“Peo­ple are catch­ing on to what these taxes are: money grabs. And they are telling their elected of­fi­cials there’s a bet­ter way that doesn’t hurt work­ing peo­ple,” said Lau­ren Kane, a spokes­woman for the as­so­ci­a­tion.

The tax made Cook County a battleground for ex­pen­sive lob­by­ing cam­paigns from the soft drinks in­dus­try, as well as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who bankrolled ads pro­mot­ing the tax.

In re­sponse to the move, Jim O’Hara, direc­tor of Health Pro­mo­tion Pol­icy at the Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Public In­ter­est said: “The in­dus­try’s op­po­si­tion to these taxes is not new. Their will­ing­ness to write big checks is not new. Some­times they are go­ing to win. More time than not they are go­ing to lose.” —

BOT­TLES OF PEPSI are pic­tured at a gro­cery store in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia, US, July 11.

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