The war against soft drink taxes has claimed a new victim: Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator and former presidential contender has been featured in a slew of anti-tax soda ads across the Bay Area. The only problem? He never told soda companies they could use his likeness to tout their cause.
Sanders publicly opposed a soda tax in Philadelphia while he was running against eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, penning an op-ed in Philadelphia Magazine that claimed a tax on sugary drinks would hurt the city’s poor. Now, those comments have been prominently featured in anti-soda tax ads, mailers, and social media messages on the other side of the country, in California and in Colorado.
On Wednesday, Sanders told Politico he has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the American Beverage Association, the organization funding the fight against a tax on soda. "I have not taken any position on those ballot items, and I have asked the American Beverage Association to stop using my name in connection with this misleading advertising," Sanders said.
According to Politico, the beverage industry has already spent more than $30 million to counter soda taxes this year. That sheer amount of money makes it difficult for proponents of sugary drink bills to fight back.
A soda tax is, in essence, a "sin tax," similar to those placed on other bad-for-you products such as alcohol and tobacco. There are countless unhealthy products lining the shelves at grocery stores throughout the country, but soda has taken center stage in the fight against obesity: It’s often marketed to kids, and sugary drinks are said to account for half of all sugars consumed in the United States.
The American Beverage Association, however, claims there is "no proof that beverage taxes improve public health." For companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, soda taxes can not only impact a bottom line, but a reputation, as well. It’s a powerful industry, but in some uber-liberal regions of the country, the ABA’s lobbying efforts have failed. In Berkeley, California, a soda tax passed with 75 percent of the vote in 2015. Across most of America, however, the measures have failed — largely because of the tremendous financial strength of Big Soda.
Despite the industry's claims to the contrary, the soda tax appears to be accomplishing exactly what Berkeley officials hoped it would do. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows soda consumption by low-income residents fell 22 percent after the law was enacted. Meanwhile, water consumption surged by a whopping 63 percent.
• Bernie’s Beef with Big Soda [Politico]
• Why Is It So Hard to Tax Soda? [E]
• All Soda Tax Coverage [E]