Voters in Berkeley, California, have passed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugarsweetened beverages (SSBs) and the added-calorie sweeteners used to make them. Revised by court order to reference “sugar-sweetened beverages” as opposed to “high-calorie, sugary drinks,” the ballot measure garnered 75-percent approval to make Berkeley the first city in the nation to adopt a soda tax.

The new tax will apparently cover (i) SSBs distributed to stores and restaurants and (ii) sweeteners distributed to restaurants and stores “where they are used to make sugar-sweetened beverages for customers.” Exempted from taxation are sweeteners distributed to stores for direct sale to consumers as well as milk-based beverages, baby formula, alcoholic beverages, medical formulations, and fruit and vegetable juices that do not contain added-calorie sweeteners. Under the new rules, added-calorie sweeteners include sucrose, fructose, glucose, and high-fructose corn syrup, but not “natural, concentrated, or reconstituted fruit or vegetable juice or any combination thereof.” Additional details about Measure D appear in Issues 529, 535 and 537 of this Update.

“By passing Measure D, the Berkeley community is raising awareness about the link between sugary drinks and diet-related diseases, raising revenue for community programs, and reducing consumption of these harmful drinks,” said Rudd Center Director Marlene Schwartz in a November 5, 2014, press release. “This is an important development that will pave the way for similar policies across the country.”

Meanwhile, a similar proposal before San Francisco voters failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required for implementation. More expansive than Berkeley’s measure, Proposition E sought to levy a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sweeteners used in fountain-beverage mixes and SSBs containing added sugar and 25 or more calories per 12 ounces. Although it would have excluded milk or natural fruit juice without added sugar, the measure would have taxed some energy and sports drinks, sweetened teas and juices.

“Berkeley is always an outlier. It’s a lot more affluent. It’s a lot more eclectic,” explained “No on E” campaign spokesperson Roger Salazar before the election. “San Francisco is always where the big action is. I don’t think people would look at Berkeley’s results and say, ‘Oh, that’s what the rest of the country would do.’” See, November 5, 2014.