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On 'Sin Taxes,' Boulder And Colorado Go Different Routes

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Luke Runyon
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KUNC/Harvest Public Media
A glass of soda - or other sugary drinks - will cost you a little bit more in the city of Boulder.

Voters in Boulder have embraced the highest tax on soda and other sugary drinks in the country. About 55 percent of voters backed the 2-cent-per-fluid-ounce “soda tax,” which is the first of its kind in Colorado. 

Healthier Colorado is a nonprofit that pushed heavily for the tax to pass. Director Jake Williams said the tax would improve residents’ health. 

“Common sense tells you that when you make something more expensive less of it is going to be consumed,” he said. “When you take the money from that tax and invest it into programs targeted at low-income families to help them eat better and get more physical exercise, you’re going to see results.”

Public health advocates spent more than $1 million to pass the measure. Combined with big spending from larger soda manufacturers who opposed the measure, the race was one of the most expensive in the city’s history. 

Similar measures passed in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, California. 

Statewide, voters defeated another so-called “sin tax” -- an initiative that would have raised taxes on tobacco.

Proponents of the measure — including Healthier Colorado — argued that higher prices would deter the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products, especially among teens and young adults. Williams said opponents simply had deeper pockets.
 
“What happened is the tobacco industry outspent us on the media by a factor of 14 to 1,” he said. “In the ads that money purchased, they barely mentioned tobacco or cigarettes, and instead used messages that several media outlets declared to be false or misleading. And that led to our demise.”
 
Williams says they’ll explore other options to reduce smoking, including working through the state legislature.
 
Luke Runyon and Erin O'Toole contributed reporting to this story.

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