Chicago, Illinois - The American Heart Association expressed deep disappointment with today’s vote in Cook County, Illinois, repealing the county’s sweetened beverage tax. The Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, believes commissioners were misled by false claims from the beverage industry.
According to Association and other thought leaders, the vote to repeal the tax - which would have saved the county more than $200 million in health care costs over the next ten years - is a step back in the continuing efforts to improve public health by encouraging residents to reduce consumption of sugary drinks, and will further result in significant budget cuts to critical public health and safety priorities.
“Leaders are defined by the choices they make. We are deeply disappointed that beverage industry spin won out over the health of five million Cook County residents. Today’s decision by the Cook County Commissioners protects beverage industry profits at the expense of kids and families” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “We are grateful to all the local American Heart Association volunteers, the Illinois Public Health Institute, and the numerous local organizations, medical professional, faith leaders and other visionaries, such as former New York City mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, for their significant efforts to protect people from the harmful impacts of sugary drinks. The American Heart Association will proudly continue the fight to pass sugary drink taxes across the country.”
Following the passage of Cook County’s sweetened beverage tax in November 2016, the beverage industry launched a “Can the Tax” campaign to cast unfounded aspersions on the public health benefits of sugary drink taxes and downplay the devastating budget cuts that will hit county health and public safety budgets without the revenue. “The sugary beverage industry has once again placed profits over people,” said Brown.
Beverage companies continue to spend hundreds of millions across the country — $866M in 2013 alone — to advertise unhealthy drinks to consumers, disproportionately focusing marketing dollars and campaigns to target communities of color and youth. For example, according to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, lower-income African-American and Latino neighborhoods have more outdoor ads for sugary drinks than lower-income and higher-income white neighborhoods.
A growing list of communities across the United States are realizing the health and economic benefits of sugary drink taxes. A recent evaluation of the tax in Berkeley, California, found that during the first year of implementation, sales of taxed sugary drinks dropped by 9.6 percent and sales of untaxed beverages increased by 3.5 percent, including a 15.5 percent increase in sales of bottled water. In Philadelphia, revenue from the tax has already funded an expansion of pre-Kindergarten to an additional 2,000 young children across the city, with thousands more will be able to attend for the coming years.
“Despite today’s setback in Cook County, we remain optimistic that more communities will choose to reap the health and economic benefits that sugary drink taxes provide,” said Brown. “The American Heart Association will continue to stand up against industry to support these taxes that further our mission to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.”
Additional reaction from Cook County leaders mirrors the American Heart Association’s disappointment over the repeal:
Karen Larimer, Ph.D., American Heart Association—Chicago Metro Board, President, Assistant Professor of Nursing, DePaul University
Big Soda is desperate to prevent these taxes from gaining momentum and spreading across the country. People don’t need these drinks – it’s hurting their health and it’s hurting all of us with increased health care costs. It’s irresponsible to agree on a solution for a fiscal, health care and public safety crisis and then back down without alternative solutions. Our community is suffering from chronic diseases and we are all paying the costs of their health care.
Clyde Yancy, M.D., American Heart Association past president, Chief of Cardiology, Northwestern University
Today we witnessed an unfortunate misstep in judgment. The repeal of the sugar sweetened beverage assessment commits our children to early childhood obesity and in turn early adulthood diabetes, hypertension and the consequences that follow. One cannot look away from the impact of this decision on the health of our children. Indeed, the resources from this assessment were earmarked for health and public safety—needs that are quite legitimate—but in today’s world, any increase in the assessments we face is unwelcomed. However, the focus has been and should still be the staggering problem of childhood obesity. The future long-term costs of this problem will far eclipse the modest short-term savings of this repeal. No one should celebrate today’s repeal. We will never be all that the great citizenry of Chicago can be if we don’t make an investment in the current and future health of our community. Though we are disappointed by this vote, we are emboldened that many more citizens in Chicago are aware of childhood obesity and as well, are aware of our sense of urgency in the public health community. Let’s maintain that focus and find a solution. The future of our city depends upon our ability to bring forth a next generation that is fully equipped to support and lead this great city. Of all the tools the next generation will need, having good health will be among the most important.
Ms. Phalese Binion, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Westside Minister’s Coalition
Every day I see firsthand how soda companies target our community with their ads and I see the impact it has on children. These kids are getting adult diseases – diabetes is rampant and dialysis centers are everywhere. We need to protect our children. Instead, it seems like we just handed the beverage companies our souls.