Campaign groups opposing a proposed city soda tax may soon be under investigation by local and federal agencies once three Oakland City Council members file complaints saying the groups are deceptively advertising against the ballot measure.
In May, the council voted unanimously to place a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on the November ballot, which if passed would make Oakland the second city in the country to have such a tax after Berkeley passed a similar measure in 2014.
The measure, sponsored by Councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington, Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks, has since received pushback from national and local soda-industry lobbyists.
In Berkeley in 2014, the American Beverage Association poured millions of dollars into a campaign to defeat the soda tax ballot measure, which was ultimately approved by the voters.
The No Oakland Grocery Tax campaign is now operating under major funding by the American Beverage Association and has published fliers and television ads that label the soda tax as a tax on groceries that will harm small businesses and unfairly targets people of color.
“Many stores could decide to finance the tax by increasing prices on grocery items across the board,” according to the No Oakland Grocery Tax campaign website.
“That means whether you purchase these beverages or not, you could be seeing a big impact on your grocery bill,” the campaign website continues.
As a result of what the council members consider “deceptive advertising” on the part of the anti-soda tax campaign, the city officials are planning to file complaints with the city’s Ethics Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.
“It’s not a grocery tax, it’s a tax on sodas, and (the campaign) is misleading people into believing that,” said Councilmember Brooks in an interview with the Post.
“When has the soda industry ever been concerned about communities of color? This unique concern that arose only after we decided to put a tax on soda distributors—not on consumers—is a ploy from the soda industry to mislead our communities,” Brooks said.
The sugar and soda industries have also contributed to high rates of diabetes and other negative health issues that have been devastating to African American communities, said Brooks.
According to Councilmember Kaplan, the tax is intended to discourage excessive drinking of sugary sodas while the money raised will help fund programs to promote health in Oakland.
“As many people are struggling financially and worry about being able to afford food, it is cruel and unethical to lie to people to try to scare them into thinking that someone is trying to tax their groceries,” said Kaplan.
The council members plan to file their complaints against the No Oakland Grocery Tax campaign by the end of August.