SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco may become the latest U.S. city to try to curb the consumption of sugary drinks with a proposed ballot measure to impose a first-of-its-kind tax on beverages seen as a culprit in rising rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.
Supervisor Scott Wiener planned on Tuesday to formally propose asking voters in November 2014 to impose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other drinks with added sugar sold in the famously liberal northern California city.
No other U.S. city is known to have succeeded in enacting such a tax, though a similar proposal is in the works in the small southwestern Colorado town of Telluride, according to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
"There is mounting scientific evidence that sugary beverages are significantly contributing to an epidemic of diabetes, obesity and other health concerns that we're seeing in our country," Wiener told Reuters.
The meeting was due to begin at 2 p.m. Pacific time.
Opposed by the beverage industry, the proposal follows failed attempts last year by two other California cities, Richmond and El Monte, to become the first in the nation to impose penny-per-ounce taxes on businesses that sell sugary drinks.
Across the nation in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban large, sugary drinks only to have the move declared illegal by a state judge. New York's highest court has agreed to hear an appeal.
In San Francisco, Wiener said his proposed ballot measure would reduce the consumption of sugary beverages while specifically setting aside proceeds of the tax for physical education and health programs.
By contrast, revenues from the taxes proposed in Richmond and El Monte would have gone to those cities' general funds.
"Voters really want to know where their tax money is going to go," Wiener said.
The tax would amount to an extra 24 cents per average 12-ounce (35 cl) can of soda, and Wiener said it would bring in an estimated $30 million in tax proceeds annually. It would apply to drinks with added sugar and at least 25 calories per ounce.
A third of the expected tax windfall would go to San Francisco schools for physical education and healthy lunch programs, and the remainder would go to city parks and recreation programs and community health organizations.
Roughly two out of three California voters surveyed in a telephone Field Poll last fall and released in February said they would support taxing sugary beverages if proceeds were tied to improving school nutrition and physical activity programs. The poll of 1,184 voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Wiener planned to introduce the proposal to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon. It would go to a city Budget and Finance subcommittee for a hearing in the spring.
The board would vote between May and July on whether to add the tax measure to the city's elections ballot, Wiener said. It would need two-thirds support from voters in order pass.
A spokesman for the American Beverage Society, which opposes the measure, said raising taxes and restricting drink consumption would not necessarily lead to a healthier population.
"Californians have rejected beverage taxes like the one San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener proposes because such measures are unnecessary, wasteful distractions from serious policymaking," spokesman Chuck Finnie said in a statement.
The society, which represents industry leaders including PepsiCo Inc and Snapple Group Inc, has spent millions of dollars fighting proposed soda taxes around the country.
"Providing people with education, opportunities for physical activity and diverse beverage choices to fit their lifestyles are proven strategies for maintaining health," Finnie said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Daniel Trotta and Gunna Dickson)
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