Controversial Soda Tax Coming To Chicago After County Board Vote

Image courtesy of andy briggs

Two days after voters in four different cities approved local taxes on sugary beverages, the county board for Cook County, IL – home to Chicago — has narrowly okayed a $.01/ounce tax, making this the largest single market to try to curb obesity while fattening the municipal coffers.

The “Sweetened Beverage Tax” will impose a cent-per-ounce on all bottled (and fountain) sweetened drinks — even those that use non-sugar sweeteners like aspartame or sucralose.

So a 12-oz. can of Mountain Dew (or Diet Mountain Dew) will now be $.12 pricier. There is no savings for buying in bulk — a six-pack of those same cans will result in a payment of $.72 in tax. The new tax, which was approved at today’s board meeting after County Board President Toni Preckwinkle cast a tie-breaking vote, is currently slated to go into effect in July 2017.

The Cook County tax is similar to the one approved by Philadelphia’s city council earlier this year. That tax, which is imposed at the distributor level (it’s up to retailers to decide if they absorb it or pass that added cost on) has been challenged in court by a coalition of beverage industry trade groups and local stores and restaurants.

It seems likely that the industry will launch a similar challenge to the Cook County tax.

We asked the American Beverage Association — the organization that has supported much of the anti-tax movement and was successful in defeating New York City’s attempt at levying a soda tax — for comment on today’s decision by the Cook County board. The ABA’s response pivoted away from a possible legal dispute and toward the industry’s purported goal of sugar-reduction.

“While we disagree with this tax, our energy remains squarely focused on reducing the sugar consumed from beverages – engaging with prominent public health and community organizations to change behavior,” says a spokesperson for the ABA. “We’re driving this change across America, including in communities with the highest rates of obesity. It’s the hard work necessary for true and lasting change.”

However, a rep for Cook County Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (which miraculously sent us a statement even though we had not reached out to them) seemed more focused on the legal aspects:

“Today the Cook County Board of Commissioners chose to place a regressive beverage tax on working families. This will result in fewer jobs, lower incomes and higher grocery bills. Consumers and small businesses will now have to pay the price and bear the burden of Cook County’s budget deficit. Our broad coalition of individuals, small businesses, labor groups and restaurants will continue talking with Commissioners and the community about the effects of this tax.”

Proponents of the soda tax movement — which was recently encouraged by the World Health Organization — are applauding Cook County’s decision.

“Coming on the heels of sugar-drinks taxes passing Tuesday in Boulder, CO, and in Albany, Oakland, and San Francisco, CA, the momentum is clear,” says Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We hope that more and more states and localities will protect their citizens from the increased risk of soda-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay.”

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