California lawmakers have shelved a measure to outlaw “Big Gulp”-style sodas to avoid dragging down the rest of a package of bills that sponsors say is aimed at reducing obesity, including a soda tax and health warning labels on sugary drinks.
Among a half-dozen measures proposed in February to address health effects from sugary drinks, the large-soda ban drew some of the heaviest opposition from business groups. Hours after it was shelved, the Assembly Health Committee voted 8-5 on Tuesday night to approve a soda fee bill and send it on toward the Assembly floor.
Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco said he would wait until next year to pursue his measure banning stores and restaurants from selling unsealed sugary drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.
The Chiu proposal to outlaw the sale of nonsealed sodas had drawn strong opposition from business groups including the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association. In a statement, Chiu said he pulled the measure after deciding “to make our bill a two-year effort to give us time to engage in constructive dialogue.”
The American Beverage Association, a chief opponent of the bill, welcomed its shelving and said the measure was not supported by Californians.
“We remain committed to working with the Legislature on effective ways to address its budgetary and public health concerns and to ensure that food and beverages remain affordable for all Californians,” said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the association.
Another bill pulled from committee by its author Tuesday would have prohibited stores from selling sugar-sweetened beverages near checkout stands, where consumers make last-minute purchases.
However, the legislative panel supported a proposal by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica that would add a fee of 2 cents-per-fluid-ounce tax to raise up to $3 billion annually for public health programs. The fee would add 24 cents to the cost of a 12-ounce can of a sugary drink.
“The science is overwhelming. California is facing a public health crisis,” Bloom told the committee. “Sugary drinks are uniquely unhealthy.”
Beverage industry officials told the committee that the consumption of sugary drinks is down as they offer more options that include low-calorie sodas.
Republican lawmakers including Assemblyman Heath Flora of Ripon said a higher tax is not warranted, citing lack of exercise as a contributor to health issues.
Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento disagreed.
“These policies work to decrease consumption and make communities healthier,” he said.