California lawmakers propose statewide soda tax, ban on jumbo-size sugary drinks

  • California legislators announce a package of five bills that target sugary beverages they say contribute to diabetes, obesity and other health conditions.
  • The measures include a statewide tax on sugary drinks, bans on jumbo-sized drinks popular at convenience stores and a new health warning label.
  • The proposed legislation also restricts the display of sugary drinks in stores and bars soda companies from offering certain discounts to retailers and others.
  • Previous efforts by the state legislature to pass a soda tax have failed, and the American Beverage Association vows to continue to fight.
A woman shops for frozen foods on an aisle across from sodas and other sugary drinks at a superrmarket in Monterey Park, California.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images
A woman shops for frozen foods on an aisle across from sodas and other sugary drinks at a superrmarket in Monterey Park, California.

A group of California legislators on Wednesday announced a package of five bills that target sugary beverages they say contribute to diabetes, obesity and other health conditions.

The measures include a statewide tax on sugary drinks, bans on supersize drinks popular at convenience stores and a new health warning label. The proposed legislation also restricts the display of sugary drinks in stores and bars soda companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo from offering certain discounts to retailers and others.

"Drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks and energy drinks and sweet teas contribute to a number of very serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity," Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, said Wednesday at a press conference announcing the measures. "These conditions are disproportionately felt in low-income communities."

The Democrat proposed Assembly Bill 764, which prohibits soda companies from offering manufacturer's coupons to partner bottlers, distributors or retailers. Proponents say these discounts can lower beverage prices for consumers and contribute to the overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Assembly Bill 138 by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica would create a tax on sodas and other sugary drinks sold in the state and use revenue to help fund programs to combat diabetes and other health conditions. Last year, the legislature voted down a similar "health impact fee" measure by Bloom that would have added a tax on sugary drinks, including certain canned soda drinks.

"I don't like the fact that my bill hasn't made it through the legislature in the two times that I've tried it," said Bloom. "But I can tell you that the support from the public during those years and leading up to now has been uniformly positive."

The beverage industry vowed to fight the sugary beverage tax, which some estimates previously indicated could raise billions of dollars in revenue annually for the state.

"These kinds of regressive taxes are not supported by the people of California because they place an unfair burden on working families and neighborhood businesses already struggling with the state's high cost of living," said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association.

"We are committed to working with the legislature on effective ways to address its budgetary and public health concerns and to ensure that food and beverages remain affordable for all Californians," said the ABA spokesman. "This unprecedented commitment to fight obesity by any industry includes long-standing efforts to help people reduce the sugar they get from beverages by offering more choices and smaller portion sizes with less sugar or no sugar at all."

The California Medical Association and the California Dental Association are backing the five measures introduced this week that are aimed at reducing consumption of sugary drinks.

Other legislation proposed in the package of bills includes:

  • Assembly Bill 765 introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks of Oakland would bar the placement of sugar-sweetened drinks near checkout counters at retailers. Stores found in violation of the law could face penalties of $1,000 per day for the first violation and up to $5,000 per day for third and subsequent violations.
  • Assembly Bill 766 by Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco restricts the sale of unsealed sugar-sweetened beverages larger than 16 fluid ounces at restaurants and other locations with self-service soda machines. It would target convenience stores such as 7-Eleven that sell extra-large cups of soda.
  • Senate Bill 347 by Democratic state Sen. Bill Monning of Carmel mandates sugar-sweetened beverages contain a health warning label. It would exclude beverages containing 100 percent natural fruit juice or natural vegetable juice with no added sweeteners.