December 18, 2007 / 12:38 AM / 11 years ago

San Francisco seeks fee on stores selling sodas

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco stores selling high-calorie sodas should pay millions of dollars a year to offset the health-care costs related to obesity, the city’s mayor said on Monday.

San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom in a file photo. San Francisco stores selling high-calorie sodas should pay millions of dollars a year to offset the health-care costs related to obesity, Newsom said on Monday. REUTERS/Kimberly White

“This is not just hippy-dippy, left-coast, granola stuff,” Gavin Newsom said about his proposal to encourage people to drink less Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other soft drinks. “There is a direct correlation between caloric sweetened beverages and obesity.”

“What we are doing is proposing a fee against the supermarkets and hypermarkets.”

The 6-foot-3-inch tall Democratic mayor, who appears fit at 198 lbs, said the city pays $192 million per yearon obesity-related health care costs, of which some $54 million is linked to sodas.

The plan, outlined during an interview at City Hall, seeks to raise to between $1.7 million and $7.1 million a year for anti-obesity programs by having stores pay between hundreds and thousands of dollars a year each.

“It doesn’t hinder or break the knees of these big retailers,” Newsom said.

Officials at soft-drink companies Pepsico and Coca-Cola did not immediately return calls for comment but the mayor said he expected strong resistance and lobbying on the issue.

“The fear is ... that as we go, so goes the rest of the nation,” he said.

That comment was a reference to government policies on the environment and other subjects, which began in California and later spread across the United States.

On its Web page, Coca-Cola explains that eating more calories than the body uses causes obesity and then offers links to various dietary guidelines. “The bottom line is that people should consume a variety of foods and beverages, manage calories to maintain body weight, and be physically active everyday,” it says.

Newsom said he would propose a resolution on the issue at the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention next month in an effort to bring more attention to the idea.

Asked if he backed taxing soda cans directly to discourage consumption, he said he did not have that authority as mayor.

“I can’t yet defend looking at a beverage tax,” Newsom said. But “this is tomorrow’s headline.”

Many studies have said sodas play a part of a growing epidemic of both childhood and adult obesity in the United States.

Newsom said he once downed 20 percent of his daily calories in Coca-Cola and red wine. He says he now favors drinks such as Cadbury Schweppes’s diet Snapple and has given up wine after admitting an alcohol problem earlier in the year.

Editing by Leslie Gevirtz

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