Two California cities placed sugar sweetened beverage (SSB) tax ballot measures on their November ballots. Richmond and El Monte had similar sized populations (105,000/114,000) and similar demographics, sizable Latino communities. The beverage lobbyists, with help from movie theater chains, spent $2.5 million in Richmond, which ironically, would have been the revenue generated annually if the measure had passed. Outspending the Yes on N campaign spelled a resounding defeat with nearly 2/3 of Richmond’s voters opposing the sugary drink tax.
The SSB tax would have asked business owners to estimate a $.01 fee per fluid ounce of fountain and shelf drinks sold on a quarterly basis. These fees were designated to be directed towards three public health areas: after-school and extra-curricular physical activity programs (especially in at-risk neighborhoods based on Fitnessgram outcomes); school nutrition coordinators to provide healthier meals and supplement juvenile diabetes treatment and patient education programs.
Comparisons to the battle against Big Tobacco were drawn: Big spending and Big corporate interests vs. public health progress. We face the same uphill fight to educate, employ sound public health policy and implement strategic legislation to improve cardiovascular health.
Richmond City Councilman, Jeff Ritterman, MD, spearheaded this SSB tax effort. As the chief cardiologist for Kaiser Richmond for over 20 years, he saw firsthand the increase in childhood obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Even though the measure was defeated, Ritterman still believes the need to work towards a childhood obesity prevention efforts for the City of Richmond and beyond.
"We won in so many ways," Ritterman said. "We pushed the conversation about their poisonous products, we raised awareness, and we forced Big Soda to spend money in our city. I encourage every city everywhere to take on this effort; it will benefit them."
- Terry Mock, Senior Health Systems Policy Director