Oregon voters set to reject pre-emptive ban on new soda taxes; Washington voters likely to approve similar measure

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: GettyImages-hedgehog94
Picture: GettyImages-hedgehog94

Related tags: Measure 103, Initiative 1634, Soda tax

Oregon looks set to reject Measure 103 – which would institute a pre-emptive ban on new soda taxes; while voters in Washington appear likely to approve a similar measure (I-1634), based on the latest results from yesterday’s midterm elections.

Nancy Brown, CEO at the American Heart Association, welcomed the result in Oregon​ ​(No: 57.7%, Yes: 42.3%), adding that, “Despite the misleading messages of grocery and sugary drink companies, voters rejected Measure 103, choosing the value of local control over protecting corporate profits.”

In Washington​ (No: 45.2%, Yes: 54.8%), she claimed, “The beverage industry followed Big Tobacco’s playbook in spending more than $20m to spread a false narrative that resulted in the passage of I-1634.”

However, Dan Floyd from the vote yes on 103 campaign, said he hoped a 'no' vote would not be followed by a "regressive​" tax on groceries, which "will fall painfully on families struggling to put food on their table."

How much did each side spend?

In Oregon​, the ‘vote no’ campaign, which was supported by former NY mayor Michael Bloomberg, public unions and some large brands, spent $6.95m; while 'vote yes,' which was supported by the beverage industry and grocery chains, spent $7.63m. 

In Washington, the ‘vote yes’ campaign spent $20.2m​, with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo., Keurig-Dr. Pepper, and Red Bull North America contributing the overwhelming majority of the cash. The he vote no campaign was backed by two committees, the Healthy Kids Coalition, which spent $15,5k and Healthy Inmates for Healthy Minds are Voting, which has not yet reported any campaign finance activity.

Yes on I-1634: 'This is a victory for all Washingtonians'

The Yes! To Affordable Groceries coalition welcomed the Yes vote on I-1634, which will prevent local governments from levying taxes like the Seattle soda tax (although none are currently on the horizon and I-1634 does not repeal the Seattle measure​), adding in a statement:

People are tired of being taxed on everyday basics that make it harder on working families and local small businesses​… This is a victory for all Washingtonians who came forward to put a stop to regressive taxes that place a larger share of the burden on residents least capable of paying it.”

CSPI: 'Unlike real groceries, soda contributes nothing of redeeming value to the diet'

However, Margo G. Wootan, VP for nutrition at Washington based consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), claimed the 'Yes' campaign had misled voters with talk of 'grocery' taxes.

The industry knows that communities are increasingly turning to soda taxes to address diabetes and obesity and raise revenue for community needs. That’s why it spent millions falsely reframing soda taxes as taxes on 'groceries.' The soda industry knows that soda taxes work. People have been turning away from soda in droves since the late 1990s, and evidence from Berkeley​ and Philadelphia​ demonstrates that taxes drive consumption down even further. 

She added: “Unlike real groceries, soda contributes nothing of redeeming value to the diet and promotes weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. We will work to ensure that, in the years ahead, more local communities, state legislatures, and, eventually, Congress enact taxes on soda and other sugary drinks. Just as the tobacco industry delayed public health gains but lost in the end, the writing is on the wall for Big Soda. Regardless of how the votes come out today, it’s the long game that matters.”

'The soda industry’s $21m disinformation campaign has proven successful'

Victor Colman, Campaign Manager at the Washington Healthy Kids Coalition told us: “While Initiative 1634 has won at the polls tonight, the science connecting the consumption of sugary drinks to our nation’s obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics remains clear.

“The soda industry’s $21m disinformation campaign has proven successful, but the movement to advocate for policies and programs that protect our shared community’s health will continue.”

Soda taxes in focus

Soda taxes have been approved in Boulder, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, the Navajo Nation, Philadelphia, and Seattle.

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for soda tax enthusiasts, with residents in Santa Fe rejecting a soda tax in May 2017, while five months later, government officials voted to repeal a soda tax in Cook County Illinois, a major win for the drinks industry and a significant blow for health advocacy groups.

California, Michigan and Arizona have all passed statewide bans on new food and drink taxes, meanwhile.

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