At the California State Capitol last Thursday, teenage health advocates from Stockton urged lawmakers to stand with communities like theirs and put people’s health over corporate profits. After more than a year of knocking on doors, talking with people at farmers markets, and attending community events to build support for a soda tax in their city, these young activists were up against an unexpected challenge — a state law that would render their efforts meaningless by banning cities from adopting soda taxes until 2030.
These young people talked emotionally about how chronic health problems affect their families in a city where 36 percent of youth suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetes — and shared how the beverage industry misleads consumers about the safety of their products.
As the youth spoke out against the bill, the other side was conspicuously quiet. That’s because the American Beverage Association — representing the soda industry — wasn’t even in the room. It didn’t need to be — its fingerprints were already all over the legislation that ended up being signed by Gov. Jerry Brown later in the day.
Now the rest of the country needs to be on the alert for similar soda industry moves since what happens in California often goes national. Just as the tobacco industry used state legislation to preempt local efforts to control tobacco, the soda industry is about to roll out the same strategy to quash local soda taxes.