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San Francisco approves soda tax for November ballot

By Jennifer Baires

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco city leaders have approved a measure for the November ballot that would place a two-cents-per-ounce municipal tax on sodas and other sugary beverages, hoping to become the first major city to successfully impose such a levy.

Other U.S. cities have tried and ultimately failed to tax sugary drinks. Among them have been Richmond, California, across the bay from San Francisco, where a penny-an-ounce tax was defeated after a multimillion-dollar campaign by the American Beverage Association.

San Francisco's plan, which was approved on Tuesday night by a 6-4 vote of the board of supervisors, would be applied to any nonalcoholic, sweetened drink with more than 25 calories per 12 ounces.

"I think the nation is watching what happens here," said John Maa, a surgeon on the board of directors at two organizations that support the measure, San Francisco Medical Society and American Heart Association. "It has been referred to as a last stand."

But Roger Salazar a spokesperson with Coalition for an Affordable City: Stop Unfair Beverages Taxes, a project of the American Beverage Association, said that if the city wants to educate people about health issues it should do so without taxing the most needy.  

  "Taxing sugar sweetened beverages won't alter lifestyle," Salazar said. "All it really does is impact the very people that are struggling to get by in San Francisco at a time when they can least afford it."

  San Francisco's office of economic analysis estimates that the tax would bring in $35 to $54 million per year and, if it's passed directly on to consumers, as expected, it could reduce consumption by 31 percent.

Income from the tax would go towards funding city programs to improve food access, health and nutrition. 

(Reporting by Jennifer Baires; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)

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