Boulder begins taxing sugar sweetened drinks

Voter approved tax takes effect

BOULDER, Colo. -- As obesity and diabetes lead to rising health care costs, a handful of cities have sought to address the problem by curbing consumption of sugary beverages through taxes. Some efforts have failed, others have succeeded. In November, 54 percent of voters in Boulder approved a tax on sugar sweetened beverages.

"I'm really for personal freedoms but I understand the balance of taxing and the downstream costs of obesity," said Blaze Cook, who was visiting Boulder today from Golden. 

Healthy Boulder Kids, which campaigned for the tax, says Boulder county's obesity rate has doubled since 1995 and every 12-ounce sugary drink consumed per day by children increases their risk of becoming obese by 60 percent.

The Sugar Sweetened Beverage Product Distribution Tax is charged to distributors. It's two cents per ounce on drinks with added sugar and other sweeteners. Products that are taxed include soda, energy drinks, pre-sweetened teas, as well as syrups and powders used to produce the drinks. Certain beverages like infant formula, alcoholic beverages and 100 percent natural fruit juice are exempt.

Not everyone agrees these types of taxes work to change behaviors. On Friday, a judge in Illinois blocked the implementation of a beverage tax in Cook County, which includes Chicago. Retailers there oppose the tax.

Many also admit, when they want sugar, they'll just pay more.

"I could have stayed home and made my coffee for a dollar but I come here because I like the work they do here, I like the taste and if it costs me a few extra cents, I don't even notice," admitted Aaron Samuel as he sipped a sweetened coffee beverage at Lucky's Market in Boulder. 

You probably won't notice an increase in the cost of sugary beverages for at least a few weeks. That's because the tax is now being charged to the distributors, who will then likely pass it on to retailers and restaurants, which can then pass it on to the customers.

The revenue generated from the tax will go toward health promotion, general wellness programs, and chronic disease prevention. The city says preliminary estimates show the tax is expected to generate $1.5 million in 2017 and $3 million in 2018.

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