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Seattle council approves controversial soda tax

(AP file photo)

The Seattle City Council passed a soda tax Monday that will place a new fee on sugary beverages sold within the city.

“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible … sugar-sweetened beverage consumption leads to negative health outcomes,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess shortly before voting to pass the soda tax. “Communities of color and young people are disproportionately targeted by the beverage industry’s advertising and marketing campaigns. Black children and teens see twice as many ads for soda and other sweetened beverages compared to white children and other teens.”

RELATED: Seattle council removes diet drinks from soda tax

Burgess argued the sugary drinks are the leading source of excess calories and are linked to heart disease, dental disease and other chronic illnesses, disproportionately affecting minorities.

“Daily consumption of just one sugary drink increases a child’s chance of obesity by 55 percent and diabetes by 26 percent,” he said.

The new soda tax places a .0175 per ounce fee on sweetened beverages. The tax is initially paid for by distributors, but the cost will likely be passed along to the customer. The city estimates it will raise more than $23 million from the tax in 2018, which it intends to put toward reducing the academic achievement gap between white and minority students, as well as expand access to healthy food.

The council voted 7-1 in favor of the tax. Councilmember Lisa Herbold was the only member to vote against it. She said that she supports the effort, but did not like how the legislation was drafted, and disagreed with the drinks it targeted and excluded. Councilmember Sawant was absent.

Soda tax and Seattle

The council heard a range of public perspectives prior to passing the soda tax. Business owners objected to the proposal, arguing that the tax would negatively impact their stores.

“From the last four to five years, something new is coming every single time and it’s cutting our bottom line,” said a representative from the Greater Seattle Franchise Owner Association. “Not only is it cutting our bottom line, we are decreasing our payroll, letting people go. We are giving part-time jobs right now, not full time. Sooner or later, we will have to stay in our stores 24 hours.”

“Think before you do anymore taxes on us or our customers,” he said.

Others criticized the city for only targeting sugary drinks that are more often purchased by lower-income and minority residents. Yet products more often purchased by wealthier residents were excluded from the tax.

“It is regressive and it hurts working people and the poor the most and it will result in the loss of jobs,” said Pete Lamb with Teamsters Local 174.

“We absolutely oppose the exception on hand-crafted beverages. It is elitist and it absolutely undermines the credibility of this proposal in the first place,” he added.

The amendment aimed at exempting hand crafted beverages did not gain approval from the council before the tax passed.

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