Does Boulder Sugary Drink Tax Win Mean You Could Soon Pay More for Soda, Too?

In an April report about 2H, a Boulder proposal to put an excise tax on sugary drinks, and a followup last month, we addressed the possibility that its passage could lead to similar initiatives in other cities.

Well, 2H was approved, having attracted 53.87 percent of the vote at this writing. Moreover, similar taxes also earned wins in three other cities — San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, California — in the wake of the first soda tax of its kind, implemented in Berkeley circa 2015.

In a previous interview, Angelique Espinoza, campaign manager for Healthy Boulder Kids, told us that her campaign was "concerned with Boulder, and it's not our intention to try and export [2H]. But certainly, we hope that the education and information that we're able to get out through our campaign will go beyond our community — and if people in other communities feel it's right for them, perhaps they'll bring it to their own town."

In the glow of victory, Healthy Boulder Kids spokesman Gil Rudawsky underscores this point. "Just like Berkeley was a resource for us, we're happy to be a resource for other communities," he says.

As we've reported, 2H authorizes an excise tax of two cents per ounce on "drinks with added sugar, and sweeteners used to produce such drinks" (with the exception of sweeteners sold separately to consumers, milk products, baby formula, alcohol and drinks taken for medical reasons). It's expected to raise $3.8 million, with the proceeds earmarked "toward providing access to healthy foods and activities and providing education about nutrition and exercise, particularly in low-income communities," Espinoza explained.

In the end, the battle for 2H was Boulder's most expensive ballot measure ever. An estimated $503,000-plus in opposition funding came from the American Beverage Association, while supporters contributed more than $824,000, with most of the cash coming from Healthier Colorado, assisted by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who personally ponied up $200,000.

Nonetheless, Rudawsky stresses that "this was really a grassroots campaign. It was started by a group of citizens who thought up the idea and pushed it to help Boulder kids."

Boulder has a well-deserved reputation for its residents' devotion to fitness. But according to statistics from the Boulder County Health Department cited by Rudawsky, the community's obesity rate has doubled over the past twenty years.

"Boulder is a unique community, but there are a lot of diverse communities within it — and a lot of those communities don't have access to healthy foods, healthy lifestyle programs or health education," Rudawsky notes. "So this is really going to help with that."

He adds that "what they did in Berkeley was sort of the template for what we wanted to do here. We worked with the grassroots organizations in Berkeley to help guide us through this in terms of helping us with some of the resources and how to combat tactics from Big Soda."

The Boulder tax goes into effect on July 1, 2017, and if it achieves results on par with those in Berkeley — this past August, a study of the tax's impact there showed that the higher cost of sodas reduced consumption of such drinks by approximately 20 percent in some neighborhoods — there's a good chance that a proposal like 2H could be coming to a community near you.

If Michael Bloomberg has anything to say about it, that is.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts