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Opinion: Soda tax promises bitter outcome for residents and businesses

on July 6, 2012

Richmond’s regressive and indiscriminate sugar tax promises a bitter outcome for our most underserved residents and struggling businesses.

The proposed tax is extraordinarily broad, impacting much more than the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sweetened sodas suspected of causing much of the nation’s obesity. It taxes any non-alcoholic beverage containing any added caloric sweetener including fructose, sucrose, and fruit juice concentrates. This means many alternatives to soda — juice-sweetened sodas, soy milk, almond milk, fruit juice blends, veggie-drinks, ethnic drinks (aguas frescas, Thai iced tea, tapioca pearl drinks, etc) and even baby formula — are all taxed. The tax is blind to quantity — if even a small amount of sweetener is added the entire beverage is taxed $.01 per ounce.

Many of these alternatives are moderately consumed, healthy grocery items; taxing of staples will become even more pronounced when Richmond businesses, as they’ve forewarned, must distribute the cost across all merchandise in order to remain competitive with stores outside our city. Raising the cost of staples through taxation, in a city with nearly double the national and state poverty rate, places an unacceptable burden on our poor.

This effect on our poorest residents is further compounded because our wealthier residents already shop outside Richmond. Supermarkets generally popular with our lower middle-class and up — Safeway, Raley’s, Lucky’s, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, etc. – are all located in neighboring cities. This leaves our poor, with limited means and mobility, to pay the tax at Richmond’s corner stores while the wealthier residents can reap any benefits — without the burden — the tax may bring. This tax is hyper-regressive.

Richmond has many vacant storefronts, a shortage of grocers, and leading supermarkets either refuse to locate here or have left town. Passing a tax making it even costlier to do business assures the shunning of Richmond will continue, while avoidance of the tax will remain the privilege of our wealthier, mobile residents.

Few disagree that the consumption of HFCS sodas is unhealthy and must be reduced, particularly here in Richmond. The proposed sugar tax includes a noteworthy albeit non-mandatory measure tying revenue to as-yet unspecified anti-obesity programs. But in a time of punishing, pension-driven deficits in a city struggling with violent crime, it remains to be seen if revenues won’t be diverted to more immediate concerns such as public safety.

In the absence of a state or national soda tax, a local parcel tax dedicated to health initiatives could be one progressive option that avoids impeding business growth and ensures the wealthy pay their fair share. But as proposed, this municipal tax on sugar will be harmful to a city with such socio-economic disparity and focusing a tax on Richmond’s poor can never be the solution.

See this link for examples of taxed, non-soda beverages:

Felix Hunziker, Richmond, California


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  1. roberto reyes on July 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I can appreciate this slanted opinion but Felix Hunsiker needs to get our archaic Police Commission back on its charge rather than acting as another mouthpiece for the beverage companies.

    Did you ever wonder how many beverage distributors serve our county? Check it out and see how they are able to manipulate unassuming folks like Felix…nothing but a political scam. More to come…

    • Felix Hunziker on July 7, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Roberto, it seems the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s only response to citizens opposing the tax is to label them a mouthpiece for Big Soda. I suppose you have no other choice since as an organization that claims to represent the underclass and oppose regressive taxes, you’re clearly on the wrong side of this issue.

      Regarding the Police Commission: perhaps if you’d stayed on the Commission instead of leaving your post mid-term you’d see that we’re actually doing quite a lot.

      We’re collaborating with RYSE on a soon-to-be-released PSA video, organize “Coffee With a Cop” events to help build personal relationships between the community and the PD, staff information booths at major community events, distribute information to neighborhood councils and other community organizations, and are generally always looking for new ways to reach the community.

      This is of course in addition to our other work of reviewing claims and providing input on RPD policies.

      Assuming you no longer seek to abolish Richmond’s police oversight body, if you have particular ideas for the RPC then I recommend you reapply to the Commission, roll up your sleeves, and work with us to make it even better.


      • roberto reyes on July 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm

        Thanks Felix but you didn’t answer my question…ever wonder how many beverage distributors there are in our county? Count’em. By the way, I certainly did not push to abolish the Richmond Police Commission…I just think you guys are toothless and need some real oversight power. Continue with the little stuff.

  2. Melissa Ehman on July 6, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Felix, thank you for spelling out your opinions on the sugary beverage tax.

    I have many questions for you, but I’ll start with what seems to be a central tenet of your arguments: that Richmond businesses will raise prices across the board as a response to this tax on one specific type of item. But why would they do this? Wouldn’t it make much more business sense to simply pass the tax on to the consumer completely, as I believe is the intent of the tax?

    Just as cigarette taxes — which are passed directly on to the consumer — have been most effective in curbing sales among the youngest age groups, this tax can be especially effective in encouraging healthier choices in young people who spend their money on snacks that include sugar-sweetened beverages.

    I agree with you that a statewide tax would be preferable, but sometimes initiatives need to be started at the local level in order to spark broader action. I am very proud that Richmond is taking leadership in this critical area. I also think it can have immediate local benefit.

    I see this initiative as part of changing the conversation, and ultimately societal norms, about too-cheap, empty calorie beverages that are in fact way too expensive for our health. The incredible success against Big Tobacco is an inspiring and valid model. Do you remember how it started? It wasn’t one statewide law. First it was restaurants (which were supposed to go out of business, using many of the arguments you make regarding this tax) and then bars — how could bars possibly stay in business if no smoking were allowed? It was city by city, at first. And there was immediate benefit to the people in those cities.

    This initiative is much less restrictive, though. Anyone can go buy a whole bag of sugar for a dollar or two, pretty much anywhere. They could just eat spoonfuls right out of the bag. Why don’t they? Because people have an understanding that that would be harmful. A sugar-sweetened beverage tax would help extend that understanding of harm, to drinking sodas, as essentially the same as eating sugar out of a bag.

    To return to my original question (and thank you for reading this far), why would a business owner shoot him/herself in the foot by raising prices on everything in the store, rather than allow soda to be more expensive?

    • Felix Hunziker on July 7, 2012 at 8:33 am

      Thanks for your comment Melissa. Spreading the cost around is the feedback I received from business owners as a likely response to price increases affecting the majority of their beverage sales. The hope is that a small increase on everything will be less noticeable to customers.

      The alternative, leaving the full cost increase on the beverages, is equally regressive to consumers and problematic for businesses since the measure impacts many more beverage types than HFCS sodas that are the purported focus of the tax. When even healthy, moderately consumed alternatives like soy milk and vegetable juices (which often contain small amounts of cane sugar or fruit juice concentrates) are significantly more expensive than stores outside Richmond the business will lose customers.

      A third alternative is for the business to pay the cost out of their own pockets in an attempt to retain customers and remain competitive with non-Richmond stores. Because margins are so tight and the tax affects so much merchandise this would kill the business.

      This tax will do very little to deter consumption of HFCS sodas. Many studies show at best a nominal reduction and virtually no change in obesity rates, and when many alternative beverages are either unavailable or are also taxed there’s even less incentive to change. A more applicable example might be the young man’s comment in the article linked below: “This [soda] is 50 cents. Would I buy it if it was a dollar? Yeah. I drink water at home”.

      I agree that local initiatives often spark larger change which is why I suggested a local parcel tax with dedicated funding for effective anti-obesity programs. Requiring a two-thirds majority sets the bar higher but it would eliminate virtually all of the problems with the tax that has been proposed. I think the local and national conversation on this issue is already changing quite rapidly and with a year of grass-roots groundwork and consensus building I think a smartly written tax could pass here in Richmond. I’d certainly support it.


      • Jeff Ritterman on July 7, 2012 at 9:39 pm

        It’s not the soda tax which is regressive, it is the illnesses our African American and Latino fifth and seventh graders and those who follow after them will acquire as they age if we provide no successful intervention. The one cent per ounce sugar sweetened beverage tax is the single measure “most likely to reverse the obesity epidemic” according to the country’s top doc for prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden the director of the Centers for Disease Control. The American Medical Association, the AARP, the American Heart Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and the United Nations all support the soda tax. There is virtually no medical voice opposing this tax. I believe Richmond residents will gladly throw in a penny an ounce to help reverse the obesity, diabetes and premature heart disease epidemics and we will have the votes on the city council to direct the funds toward programs and projects to reverse and treat obesity and diabetes. Help Richmond make history. The national attention we have already received on this issue shows that the nation is looking to us for leadership and inspiration. If we provide it, many good things and good people will be drawn to Richmond. Eventually even the naysayers will come on board. Join the Richmond Renaissance. Do it for our kids!

        • Felix Hunziker on July 7, 2012 at 10:01 pm

          Another non-response from Jeff. Of course the tax is regressive – even the RPA has conceded this – and I’ll be contacting these organizations to see if they still support this tax once they learn the details. I think we’ll find the CDC, AMA, and even the UN are in favor of state or national taxes but don’t necessarily support an unbalanced local tax that targets many other beverages.

          Many folks who oppose this tax are a key part of Richmond’s Renaissance and Jeff’s attempt to segregate them from others is divisive and uncalled for.

          • Jeff Ritterman on July 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm

            The only tax which exists which is not regressive is the progressive graduated income tax. Any other tax, sales, gas, cigarettes…all hurt the poor more than the rich. But no one needs to smoke and no one needs to drink sugar sweetened beverages. If you chose to, it will cost you a penny an ounce more and we will use those pennies to reverse the obesity epidemic in Richmond by investing in programs which promote healthy eating and active living like after school sports and hydration stations (water fountains where you can also fill your water bottle and get a refreshing drink). We will have the votes on city council to guarantee the money is spent to promote the health of our children and to prevent early diabetes and heart disease in them.

        • Michael Gerhardt on July 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm

          RPA’s own website admits to this tax being regressive, that the funds raised from this tax can be used however the council votes at the time, and that people will shop elsewhere due to higher prices of products sold in Richmond.

          All that and then they try to justify it as if it is okay…

          • roberto reyes on July 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm

            It is quite okay for Richmond voters to make their own choice when it comes to the health of the community. More power to them. I am surprised anyone would be opposed to this, unless you are working for the beverage companies as they deal out disease.

            I look forward to the day when insurance carriers appreciate good eating habits and reduce costs for residents for eating healthily, as opposed to supporting the death sentences brought on by diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Get with the program beverage companies and your agents. Richmond voters are smarter than you think

          • Jeff Ritterman on July 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

            Any tax except a graduated progressive income tax is regressive. Any and all other taxes are. If you have more money the tax hurts less. But in this case it will benefit you to stop drinking soda and not pay the tax and it will benefit your children and your family. Diabetes is a lot more expensive than the soda tax. Most folks don’t understand the new science showing that one can of soda a day increases your risk of a heart attack by 20% and markedly increase your risk for diabetes too and some cancers. Our kids certainly don’t know that and most parents don’t either. The tax will remind us all that we are harming our children and ourselves by taking in these huge doses of sugar in our sodas.
            The poor are hurt by the advertising targeting them and their children to consume unhealthy products. The poor are hurt by the illnesses that result. Everyone will have improved health, more money in their pockets and healthier children by substituting tap water for soda. What’s not to like. Give up the soda addiction. We all will be healthier and thinner and have more money in our pockets when we substitute tap water for soda and we can help save the environment too!. Its a win win win. Less expense, less fat, less illness, less environmental degradation. WATER, THE ELIXIR OF LIFE. Join me in a glass!

        • Felix Hunziker on July 10, 2012 at 10:19 pm

          Still waiting for Roberto & Jeff (aka The Richmond Progressive Alliance) to explain a few things.

          Like why are you taxing moderately consumed, healthy alternatives to HFCS soda like soy milk, vegetable juices, fruit juice blends, and even baby formula(!)? Not to mention ethnic favorites enjoyed by our minority populations like aguas frescas and Thai iced tea?

          And why did you write a tax that our poor will pay but that our wealthy will avoid? It’s undisputed that this tax is regressive, and that our wealthier residents, who have long clamored for quality supermarkets in Richmond, shop in other cities instead.

          And tell us why, when you’re struggling to maintain even a couple co-ops and our buildings remain vacant, you think it’s a good idea to make Richmond even more unattractive to new businesses with this localized tax? The sugar tax you’ve crafted goes far beyond a soda tax and other cities will not pass this, which only makes the fight harder for those who are trying to bring jobs and revenue to our City.

          And last but not least, explain how this tax won’t get us sued and cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time when we’re struggling with a $2.6M deficit? Let’s say this measure passes; it would immediately be challenged in court because it is, in fact, a tax. In California we require a 2/3 majority to levy special taxes and structuring this sugar tax as a business license fee cannot disguise the fact that the proponents are counting on businesses to pass this on to us, the public. If it looks like a tax, smells like a tax,….you know the rest. How much money should we spend only to have a judge and jury rule in favor of the beverage companies?

          If you can answer these questions truthfully then we can have a real discussion. Otherwise you’re just regurgitating rhetoric in defense of the most poorly written ordinance to ever come out of our City Council.

          • Michael Gerhardt on July 11, 2012 at 4:54 pm

            Roberto and Jeff,

            Why do you continue to disregard questions people have about this tax? Very specific questions have been asked here as well as other forums yet the only thing that comes back from the proponents is that sugar is bad for your health (most agree on that already but it continues to be repeated) and that those of us who are currently against the measure are mere pawns of the beverage industry which is laughable.

            Instead of making blanket statements, how about addressing the specific concerns many people have about THIS specific ballot measure? These concerns have been laid out so I am not going to repeat them again…

          • Jeff Ritterman on July 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm

            In terms of the drinks being taxed. 100% fruit juices are NOT taxed whether they are reconstituted from concentrate or not. I have discussed this with the city’s legal team and there will NOT be any tax on 100% fruit juices Only drinks which have added sugar will be taxed. Infant formula with added sugar has caused untold harm in infants. Dr. Rob Lustig, who runs the children’s obesity clinic at the medical school in SF has 6 month old patients who are obese from the sugar in infant formula. In addition to making these infants obese it also leads to a lifelong craving fro sweets. In terms of the drinks like soy milk, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t forget to tax chocolate milk and strawberry milk. In terms of soy milk and almond milk the only types taxed have added sugar. You can buy them without added sugar and they are healthier. Adding sugar just makes them less healthy. In terms of the concern that we have not excepted drinks with some sugar but not a huge amount of sugar. There is no practical way to do this. Let’s not make the good the enemy of the perfect. The Declaration of Independence was far from perfect yet we respect it as a huge step forward.

          • Jeff Ritterman on July 14, 2012 at 1:10 pm

            And the point about being sued: We have worked with the very best lawyer in the state and we believe that everything we are doing is legal and above reproach and there is no certainty that we will be sued. But even so, to neglect the health of our children because Big Soda (I like the acronym)threatens to sue to maintain their profits seems like the wrong approach to me. If we continue to advocate for and to work for the very best health for our children and grandchildren we will be doing the right thing.

            In terms of new business, you have it backwards and upside down. New businesses, health promoting businesses will come to Richmond as a result of us passing the soda tax and demonstrating our interest in promoting health. i have already been in touch with two health promoting corporations with huge upside potential who are interested in Richmond precisely because we are so forward thinking in health. Even our corner shops will soon lead the nation by selling healthier alternatives as a result of the soda tax. This is a huge opportunity for Richmond to distinguish itself precisely because we are the only city (may be another one next Tuesday)doing this. We have attracted national attention which has greatly helped the city’s image. This is exactly in keeping with the new branding of Richmond we started with our campaign to attract the LBNL Second Campus. Richmond is becoming a city with clusters of clean-tech, green-tech and health companies. Think Harvard BioScience and ExoSkeleton. This is the portfolio we need to add to. Our strides in health including the Soda Tax are helping us in this regard. Remember, we need to attract an additional yearly payroll of $950 million in order for us to reach full employment.

          • Felix Hunziker on July 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm

            Jeff, as previously stated, no one has ever claimed that 100% fruit juices will be taxed.

            You make a minor error below saying that soy or almond milks are HFCS-sweetened; they are actually sweetened with a small amount of evaporated cane juice (sucrose). But I appreciate your willingness to demonstrate how far-reaching this tax really is and how it impacts moderately consumed beverages that have virtually nothing to do with our obesity epidemic.

            We could have avoided the specter of an enormous lawsuit if you had been willing to do the grass-roots work needed to gain the 2/3 majority to make this a “special tax”. I think the public dialogue on this issue is changing rapidly and that with community input to craft a fair tax, and groups of volunteers to get the word out, we could have cleared that hurdle. Instead this tax was written by you, out of the public eye with residents given only 4 days to react to it before it was voted on. I consider that a scandal and also a missed opportunity to create a progressive and exemplary law that we can truly say nearly all Richmond residents support.

            Your comments about new business are misplaced. My point was about the impact this tax will have on prospective food retailers like badly needed supermarkets. The impact on existing businesses will also be harsh as the record keeping requirement is quite onerous. You’re only fooling yourself if you think our corner stores will be selling stevia-sweetened beverages – they cost 4x as much as soda.

            The only thing preventing new green, health-promoting businesses from coming to Richmond right is our reputation for violence and our faltering infrastructure. Perhaps that is the portfolio we should be working on and the rest will soon follow.


  3. Ginger Grant on July 12, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    On his webpage showing photos of non-soda drinks to be taxed, Mr. Hunziker erroneously includes 100% fruit juice beverages (such as Motts 100% apple juice). 100% juice drinks are not subject to the tax. Please do not spread false information.

    • Michael Gerhardt on July 13, 2012 at 11:37 am


      This is a direct quote from the resolution:

      “(a) “Caloric sweetener” means any caloric substance suitable for human consumption that
      humans perceive as sweet and includes, without limitation, sucrose, fructose, glucose,
      other sugars, and fruit juice concentrates.”

      Ingredients list of Motts 100% Apple Juice:

      “Water, Apple Juice Concentrate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).”

      How would Motts 100% Apple Juice be exempt from this tax if fruit juice concentrates are a caloric sweetener per the definition included in the resolution and the second ingredient in Motts 100% Apple Juice is apple juice concentrate? If the second ingredient is a fruit juice concentrate, how is it exempt? What am I missing?

      • Ginger Grant on July 14, 2012 at 10:14 am

        Mr. Gerhardt — Sorry, now I’m confused. Why did you respond to my comment? Did you post the photos on the website that Mr. Hunziker linked in his commentary? Or did Mr. Hunziker? It would be helpful to understand who is responsible for the content on an anonymous website. Thanks for clarifying.

        • Michael Gerhardt on July 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm

          I was responding to you based on what you said about the picture of Motts Apple Juice on Felix’s site. I do not know what site you speak of and was just going off of what you said was there. I happened to be reading through the resolution when I saw your post and had specifically remembered that fruit juice concentrate was defined as a “caloric sweetener” in the resolution.

      • Jeff Ritterman on July 15, 2012 at 8:01 am

        This is NOT CORRECT Felix. 100% fruit juice is not taxed even if reconstituted from concentrate. Since you have been spreading false information, perhaps unwittingly, would you please have the courtesy of re-informing all of those that you have misinformed that 100% fruit juices are not being taxed. I am hoping that you are not trying to confuse people intentionally.
        Here’s what you are missing: Some drinks like an Izee are sodas that use fructose as a sweetener from grapes. This is taxed because the grapes are a vehicle only for the sweetener. An Izze is not a fruit juice but a soda which derives its sweetener from concentrating fructose from grapes. This is taxed. 100% orange juice, apple juice, etc made form concentrate is not taxed. Please STOP spreading false information.

        • Felix Hunziker on July 15, 2012 at 11:02 am

          Hi Everyone,

          Sorry for not checking back sooner – I assumed the discussion had ended many days ago.

          Mike is “100%” correct – Mott’s apple juice is made from concentrates as are several other popular single-source fruit juices.

          Jeff is again incorrect. I have *never* stated that 100% fruit juices are taxable, only fruit juice blends. The Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 clearly states “Juices directly expressed from a fruit or vegetable (i.e., not concentrated and reconstituted) shall be considered to be 100 percent juice and shall be declared as “100 percent juice.”

          Motts or any other single-source reconstituted fruit juice is NOT “100% fruit juice”.


          • Ginger Grant on July 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm

            My question remains unanswered by Mr. Hunziker: In your commentary, you link to an anonymous website. Are you the responsible party for the website’s content? If you did not create this website, who did? Surely you know the source, given that you inserted this link into your commentary. In the interest of accountability and transparency, please reveal the owner/ creator of this website. Thank you.

          • Felix Hunziker on July 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

            Ginger, sorry for not clarifying that. I created this page. The photos were taken by me while grocery shopping at various local stores and some were collected from the web.

          • Jeff Ritterman on July 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm

            Felix, any reconstituted fruit juice will not be taxed only juices or beverages which have added sugar. That goes for every kind of drink.

          • Felix Hunziker on July 15, 2012 at 11:49 pm

            Jeff, fruit juice concentrates are also taxed and they are used to sweeten many types of “100% natural” or “naturally sweetened” beverages. A juice that is reconstituted with water and concentrates is no different than the Izze soda you mentioned earlier.

            If you didn’t want this to be taxed you should have written a better ordinance. This issue with reconstituted juices is only the tip of the iceberg.

  4. David Stein on July 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Does anyone know where I can read the proposal for myself (not that I don’t trust someone’s Op Ed).

      • Jeff Ritterman on July 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm

        In terms of what’s taxed:

        Drinks like Izze are not healthy alternatives and would be taxed. Instead of using sucrose or high fructose corn syrup as the sweetener the manufacturer has used concentrated fructose from grapes as the sweetener. While the grapes are indeed natural, it dose not make the drink a healthy alternative because the grape juice or grape syrup is just a vehicle for adding sugar to the soda. There is none of the vitamins nor antioxidants that might have been in the original fruit. There is no nutritional value to this class of drinks.

        There is no reason for sugar sweetened infant formula not to be taxed. When I was at UCSF learning about childhood obesity some months ago from Dr. Rob Lustig, Chief of Pediatric Endocrinology at UCSF (and director of the Childhood Obesity Clinic), he showed me photos of several six months old obese infants who are patients of his. The cause of the obesity: the sugar in infant formula. Not only does it lead to obesity, it leads to an unnatural craving for sweets. If its not taxed, it should be. Getting infants hooked on sugar is a very unhealthy practice.

        Soy milk, almond milk and the like: Our intention was to make sure that chocolate milk, strawberry milk and the other sugar sweetened milk beverages were covered. As far as soy and almond milk only the artificially sweetened varieties would be taxed. In each case there is a healthier non-sweetened alternative. The added sweetener only makes the beverage less healthy. We should promote the healthy alternative, the version without the HFCS.

        A word about HFCS. HFCS does not occur in nature. It was “discovered” in the laboratory by a Japanese chemist. Since it is not a natural product, our bodies have no evolutionary experience of it. It seems to highjack our biology. We no longer respond to leptin like we should. Leptin is the hormone fat cells make when we have had enough to eat. The leptin goes to the brain and we are supposed to stop eating only for some reason high fructose loads interrupt this process and we keep on eating even though our energy needs have been met.

        The healthy alternatives: first and foremost is tap water. We have good tasting healthy tap water in our area. There are lots of recipes for adding flavoring like mint, lime, various fruits, cucumbers etc…It is essential that we retake the tap. This may be the most revolutionary part of this effort. Imagine what would happen if 10% or 25% or 50% or our beverage choices became tap water. Imagine the GHG savings. Can you think of any intervention that will save money, and lead to weight loss, improved health outcomes, and major environmental benefits.

        The healthiest carbonated soda alternative is Zevia. The sodas are made with 100% all natural non-caloric sweetener stevia which has a long history of use in South America (centuries) and decades of modern use in Japan.

        Fruit juices are not taxed. There is not the same scientific evidence linking them to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease as there is for SSBs and they have some vitamins and anti-oxidants. I believe that future research will show that they are just as bad as sodas and I don’t recommend them unless significantly watered down. Its best to eat your fruits not drink them. The fiber is important. It slows fructose absorption allowing the liver to metabolize it a bit at a time.

        When the liver gets hit with a bit load of sugar all at once which is what happens with SSBs (and I suspect fruit juices), the liver converts the fructose to fat which causes fatty liver leading eventually to cirrhosis. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease from too much fructose (primarily from SSBs) will be the leading cause of liver transplants in the future. The fatty liver also leads to diabetes and the unhealthy fats also clog the heart’s arteries leading to heart attacks.

        Of course any non sweetened drink is not taxed. I don’t support bottled water as a good alternative because of the environmental damage and the cost is exorbitant. It costs 50 cents to drink from your tap for a year and $7000 to drink bottled water.

        I also think its important not to make the good the enemy of the perfect. This is now the most important public health battle going on in the United States.

        • Ginger Grant on July 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm

          Thank you so much, Dr. Ritterman, for providing details about the drinks that would be, and would not be, included in the measure. It is helpful to hear that the City’s legal team reaffirms that 100% juice drinks are not included.

          In his opposition commentary, Mr. Hunziker links to an anonymous website that contains several false examples about what would be taxed. Mr. Hunziker — did you create this website? If so, please make the corrections. Surely you don’t want to risk your credibility by promoting false information. Or, if you did not create this website, please prevail upon the “mystery source” to remove the 100% juice examples.

          Voters will be best served by honest and transparent debate.

          • Felix Hunziker on July 15, 2012 at 11:05 am

            Ginger, please see comment above dated 7/15/12. Thanks for following this discussion.

        • Michael Gerhardt on July 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm


          Could you please explain how all 100% fruit juices would be exempt from this tax when it says clearly in the resolution that fruit juice concentrate is defined as a caloric sweetener and several (if not most) 100% (labeled) fruit juices are in fact made from fruit juice concentrate?

          Is it only 100% fruit juices which were not made from concentrate?

          • Jeff Ritterman on July 15, 2012 at 8:07 am

            Let me be clear. Many fruit juices are made by removing the water and then reconstituting the juice later by re-adding the water to the concentrate. The concentrate is NOT being used as a sweetener in this case but rather to reconstitute the juice. Therefore it is not taxed. An Izze on the other hand is a soda which derives its sugar from concentrating fructose from grapes. The grapes are being used only as a sweetener. This is not fruit juice but a soda in which the sweetener came from grapes not HFCS. This is taxed. We don’t want to encourage soda companies to just find ways to get around the tax. We want them to offer healthier options. So ALL 100% fruit juices are EXEMPT from the tax. That does not make them healthy alternatives and we are advocating tap water as the healthiest alternative. If you drink fruit juice its best to water it down.

          • Michael Gerhardt on July 15, 2012 at 8:58 am

            How is it not a sweetener when it is the only sweet ingredient in a sweet beverage? I understand how it is also the flavor but the concentrate is the sole source of sugar and is clearly defined as a caloric sweetener in the resolution. The way the resolution reads, it could easy be included. The way it reads is much more important than what anyone says now as ten years down the road, some city employee or businessperson will have to try to figure it out. Imagine how confusing that will be! Here I am reading the resolution and coming to complete opposite conclusions as to what it say as you are!

            Is there some place in the resolution which specifically addresses this other than on page two where fruit juice concentrate is defined as a caloric sweetener?

          • Felix Hunziker on July 15, 2012 at 12:05 pm

            As I’ve stated above there is an FDA definition for “100% fruit juices” and Jeff’s assertion that reconstituted juices fall under this definition is incorrect.

            It may well be Jeff’s intent to exempt reconstituted juices from the Sugar Tax but that is not how he’s written it. If we’re wrangling over such definitions can you imagine the trouble our residents and merchants will have?

            I’m always perplexed when Jeff and his RPA colleagues quickly label anyone who disagrees with them as “liars”. Jeff himself isn’t being entirely truthful with the public on his claims of broad authoritative support for our tax or on his claims about sodas causing heart disease. I won’t get into exhaustive detail but here’s a summary:

            Much of Jeff’s rhetoric points to support for Richmond’s tax from such vaunted agencies as the UN, AMA, AHA, CDC, AARP, and a host of other acronyms. However, if you look at the statements of these agencies you will find broad statements of support for a national or state SODA TAX and other HFCS-sweetened drinks and nary a word about Richmond’s municipal SUGAR TAX. And why should they – our proposed sugar tax is much more regressive and targets many products that have very little to do with the obesity epidemic sweeping our nation. Even Prof. Marion Nestle, a reknowned nutritionist who did endorse Richmond’s tax, stated that she “…favor[s] taxing sodas sweetened with sucrose or HFCS”.

            Jeff is also fond of stating that sodas *cause* heart disease. He points to the March 2012 Circulation study by Dr. Lawrence de Koning et al that postulates that SSBs cause heart disease. But in the very same issue of Circulation there is an opposing editorial over *causality versus association* as outlined by Dr. Mark D. Huffman, MD, MPH in response to de Koning’s article. This is further supported by Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic, and other doctors responding to de Koning’s study in a March CBS report. In short, these medical professionals believe there are other causes for heart disease for which de Koning’s study did not control.

            Although Jeff’s causality theory (via de Koning) is apparently questionable, further debating whether or not SSBs actually cause heart disease isn’t terribly productive because most of us already agree that SSBs are unhealthy. But Jeff, as a medical professional, should at least be truthful and put this forward as theory, not fact.

            Many residents, including me, can support a soda tax that is progressive, fair, crafted with community input, and that targets the culprits of our obesity epidemic. But that’s not what Jeff has put on our ballot.


  5. Jeff Ritterman on July 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Not sure what the argument is here Felix. You have no one in the health field on your side of the debate. Yes, there may still be a question in some folks minds whether causality or just an association has been proven, but research not yet published will show that within a week of starting a sugar sweetened beverage your liver makes bad cholesterol and itself gets fatty. You dwell on as many minor details as you can and forget the big picture which is that our kids are suffering now and that everyone in the health field who knows beans about this problem recommends just what we are doing and many have called and written me to express their support. Whether drinks are sweetened with sucrose or HFCS makes no difference. We are a nation addicted to sugar and we have been fed it in huge doses in our SSBs and these SSBs have been the main culprits in the obesity, diabetes and premature heart disease epidemics and that’s why the American heart Association locally is working with me to help on this tax. As far as some future parcel tax which needs a 2/3 vote, we just lost one of those with Measure K. We can make history now. We can help reverse the obesity epidemic now. We can restore the years of life our kids will lose if we wait and do nothing. We can advance Richmond’s reputation as never before as a city which prioritizes the health of it’s children above all else.

    • Felix Hunziker on July 15, 2012 at 11:13 pm

      Jeff, I’m on your side of the health debate – there is no “other side”. I agree with you and everyone else that consumption of sugar must reduced. Pointing out untruths in your health claims doesn’t mean I don’t support the overall goal and I’ve made that abundantly clear.

      The concerns that many residents have about the sugar tax, which you are unable and unwilling to mitigate, have to do with economics, fairness, equality, and efficacy. Just because there is a driving need to reduce SSB consumption doesn’t mean we must approve a poorly written plan that places an undue burden on our poor. On the contrary, if we want our City to be seen as forward-thinking this must be done with transparency and community buy-in. I realize you don’t like the idea of “the people” messing with your hyper-regressive tax but that is democracy. However, pushing for a 50% vote without community engagement and taxing a minority population that can’t even vote is the antithesis of your progressive ideals.

      Your intentions are good Jeff. Your tax is bad.

      • Jeff Ritterman on July 16, 2012 at 7:19 am

        Felix, people will vote on November on this issue. That IS democracy. What could be more community buy in and transparency than an election. People claimed for years that the majority of folks in Richmond wanted a casino. The vote showed that people didn’t. You keep trying to pick apart the soda tax with claims that are untrue. 100% fruit juice is exempt PERIOD no matter what you or others claim about the juice being reconstituted. This will be made clear in the Impartial Statement on the Ballot. If you and others need this to be clarified before then and you persist in doubting me I can get a statement from the city’s legal department backing me up. They have already offered one and I thought by simply correcting your mistakes that would be enough. Felix, you are not on my side. Please don’t make such a ridiculous claim. You have not pointed out any untruths in my health claims, you have made false statements and shown photos to confuse folks about what will really be taxed. The claim that the tax is poorly written is insulting not only to me but to the state’s very best lawyer on this subject who wrote the soda tax measure, the city’s legal dept. which fully participated in several meetings, the American Heart Association which also participated in the drafting of Richmond’s soda tax and The Public Health Law and Policy Institute which also offered advice. The undue burden on the poor is the burden being placed on them by the diseases this tax will help remedy such as diabetes, cancer and heart attacks. The poor suffer these illnesses in greater proportion then they should in part because they are targeted by Big Soda in advertising. Actually the poor will do a lot better economically as will everyone else when we replace much of our SSB consumption with tap water which is free and healthy. Try tap water. You’ll save money, you’ll be healthier, you’ll be thinner and the planet will be a lot healthier. Its a win win win win. As far as fairness goes. You tell me if its fair for BIG SODA to come into Richmond basically bribing everyone they can to come out against the soda tax. Big Soda only cares about making money NOT the health of our kids. If you liked Big Tobacco pushing their products on our kids, then you will also like Big Soda doing the same. If you don’t, November is your time to let Big Soda know that our kids are more important than their profits.

        • Michael Gerhardt on July 16, 2012 at 8:10 am

          If the thing is so unclearly written that you need to get a lawyer to back up what you say on the comment section of an internet publication, we are already doomed to years of litigation if this thing passes.

          Health is good but this resolution is bad for Richmond.

        • Felix Hunziker on July 17, 2012 at 12:30 am

          We’re just repeating ourselves at this point and it’s getting ridiculous.

          Although there are much bigger problems that Jeff should be addressing, he is still incorrect about the reconstituted juice. He says Izze soda is taxed but Mott’s apple juice is not. Yet both beverages are juice concentrates with added water (carbonated in the case of Izze) – they’re the same thing. So, in addition the FDA definition for “100% Juice” we have this little faux pas and regardless of what Jeff would *like* to tax, this is how he has written this ordinance.

          Jeff also goes on to claim I’m lying which is not only untrue but again undercuts his arguments. Everything I’ve said is a fact, with perhaps the one correction that the AHA may be in direct support of the Richmond tax (per Jeff’s claims) although I need to see a document before I concur completely. The other agencies I mentioned – UN, CDC, AARP, etc. are all in favor of a braod soda tax but, again, that it not what Jeff has put on our ballot. I too want our City to lead the country in attacking obesity but that doesn’t mean we lead with poorly planned, emotionally buttressed, Quixotic and ultimately foolish endeavors. We plan it, we talk about it, we agree on it, and then we all act on it together. That’s how One Richmond is supposed to work.

          I’ve pointed out much of Jeff’s hyperbole and the shortcomings in his rationale. Ultimately the problem is that Jeff can only offer utopian contrivances in response to the original points in the Op-Ed:

          * This tax is incredibly broad and targets many beverages that are healthy, moderately consumed, and are not the culprits in the obesity epidemic.

          * The cost of this hyper-regressive tax will be passed on to our poorest residents who will likely see the cost of staples rise as merchants attempt to remain competitive with stores outside Richmond.

          * This tax will not be paid by the wealthy who already shop outside Richmond but they will still enjoy the any benefits the tax may bring.

          * This tax will ensure that badly needed food retailers will continue to shun our city.

          * There are no guarantees that the revenue will be spent on obesity prevention. If violence were to return to its old levels no one would blame our politicians for putting basic public safety before obesity programs.

          These are the facts and they are undeniable. Yet all these concerns could have been mitigated if the tax proponents had only been willing to do community outreach, engage merchants, and build a strong enough consensus to pass a special tax with a 2/3 majority. So let’s scrap this tax but pledge to work together to get it done right so we really WILL help our kids.


          • Jeff Ritterman on July 17, 2012 at 6:15 am

            The legal team is the ultimate authority and they have made it clear that reconstituted fruit juice is not taxed. I’m not sure what else you need to hear. If you are against the soda tax, fine, don’t vote for it, but don’t try to confuse people with this specious argument about fruit juice. It seems odd to me that there is so much discussion about reconstituted fruit juice and so little discussion about the health of our children. I agree, enough said. let the people vote.

  6. Tony Suggs on July 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Dr. Ritterman, I have asked several times for you to show proof that the Big Soda companies are targeting as you put it, “African American and Latino youths” with their advertising. You made that claim again earlier in these 40 something postings going back and forth.

    So it is time to prove that claim or stop making it! Show us where they are aiming their ads more at minority communities than any other, as in white communities.

    Also, anyone that thinks that tax will reduce childhood or even adult obesity is living in fantasy land. I also believe that when all is said and done, if the tax passes, it will not bring in the amount of money that is projected.

    As far as it being used to help educate kids and their families, do any of you remember the big tobacco settlement money? It was suppose to got to the states to use for “smoking education programs.”

    That never happened. It all went to paying then states different bills. Care to guess what will happen to this money?

    Probably the same.

  7. […] ARTICLE: Op-Ed: Soda tax promises bitter outcome for residents and businesses « New Exhibit at the Richmond Museum Dedicated to Chevron’s 110 Years var nice_navigation_options = nice_navigation_options || {}; nice_navigation_options.nice_navigation4 = { clickable_parent: false, widget_id: "nice_navigation-4" } […]

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