Soda Marketers Lose Again: Chicago's Cook County Passes Tax

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Add Chicago to the list of cities where consumers will pay a soda tax. Cook County, which includes the city, on Thursday approved a penny-an-ounce tax on soda pop and other sugared drinks.

The measure, which eventually would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year, had failed in the board's finance committee on an 8-8 tie vote. But when the measure got to the full board, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had the power to cast a tie-breaking vote, even though she's not a commissioner, and the plan was approved 9-8.

Ms. Preckwinkle and allies such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg say the levy is needed to pay for the county's justice system and will discourage unhealthy habits. Foes like soda bottlers say it represents another unfair tax that residents cannot afford to pay.

Opponents of the Chicago tax included the American Beverage Association industry group, which had been running the following TV spot in the Chicago area:

The passage of the Cook County tax came the same week that voters in the California cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Albany passed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Voters in Boulder, Colo., approved a 2-cent per ounce excise tax.

In a statement published in Beverage-Digest, Coca-Cola North America President Sandy Douglas said: "The voters in the Bay Area and Boulder have spoken, and while we disagree with the decision to tax beverages, we respect their views. We believe there are better alternatives for encouraging moderation in sugar consumption than higher taxes. Across our portfolio, we are offering more drinks in smaller sizes. We also are reformulating and reducing sugar in a number of our existing beverages, and innovating to create more new low- and no-calorie product choices."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest -- a longtime soda critic -- celebrated the Cook County tax. "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," CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson, said in a statement.

-- Crain's Chicago Business with contributions from Ad Age's E.J. Schultz