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Photo by Stephen Fee/PBS NewsHour Weekend

Nation’s first soda tax passed in Berkeley

Berkeley residents will now pay more for sodas and drinks with added sugar after voters approved a measure on Tuesday that will tax sugary drinks. Across the bay in San Francisco, a similar measure fell short.

More than 75 percent of voters in Berkeley approved Measure D, a one-cent tax-per-ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages, such as energy drinks, soda, and juices with added sugar. Exempted drinks include diet soda, baby formula and milk. Berkeley is the first city in the country to tax these beverages.

Supporters of the tax say the increase in price on sugary drinks will help limit consumption of sugary-sweetened beverages, drinks they believe are contributing to our nation’s obesity and diabetes epidemics.

Dr. Vicki Alexandra, a co-chair of the “Yes on D campaign” said in a statement that “Berkeley has a proud history of setting nationwide trends, such as nonsmoking sections in restaurants and bars, curb cuts for wheelchairs, curbside recycling and public school food policies.”

Berkeley now bucks a trend of defeat after dozens of similar soda tax measures across the country failed to become law.

Opponents of the tax called Berkeley an anomaly. Chris Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association told Politico, “Berkeley is unlike the rest of the country.” He cited polling data that shows a majority of Americans are against taxing unhealthy drinks and soda.

The beverage industry spent more than $2 million fighting to defeat Measure D. In San Francisco, approval of Proposition E, its version of a tax on sugary drinks, required a two thirds majority to pass as opposed to Berkeley’s simple majority. While more than half of the voters did approve the proposal, it was not enough to implement the tax. Opponents spent more than $9 million to successfully defeat the measure that would have placed a 2-cent tax per ounce tax on sodas and other sweetened drinks.

NewsHour Weekend’s William Brangham recently visited San Francisco to explore the debate first hand and speak with the opponents and supporters of Proposition E.

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