The Richmond City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to place the soda tax measure on the Nov. 6 ballot, despite opposition from grocers and soda drinkers. The tax would apply to soft drinks and other beverages with added sugar such as Snapple. Diet sodas and most juice would be exempt.
The money from the penny-per-ounce tax would go to soccer fields, school gardens and programs to treat diabetes and fight childhood obesity. It's projected to raise between $2 million and $8 million.
Other cities around the country have considered soda taxes as a way to reduce obesity and its related health effects. But Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, said no city has gotten as far as Richmond.
"If these products are causing damage to the community, the community has a right to recoup those damages," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think Richmond's action is quite forward-looking. The science is solid linking soda to obesity."
Councilman Jeff Ritterman, a doctor who proposed the measure, said soda is a prime culprit behind high childhood obesity rates in Richmond, where nearly 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
"Even a Twinkie has some nutritional value. But soft drinks have none. They're poisonous," Ritterman said. "I think other cities are going to follow our lead."
But Councilman Corky Booze, who voted against the measure, said it would hurt Richmond merchants and soda drinkers.
"This is a tax on poor people. That's all it is," Booze said. "People are going to drink soda anyway. But people who can't afford cars are going to end up paying more."