As a Latino health professional, as a father of two, and as a citizen of Berkeley, I am voting Yes on Measure D.
The science that the overconsumption of sugary sweetened beverages can cause diabetes is not in dispute in the Berkeley initiative to place a 1 cent per ounce excise tax on the distributors who bring these products into our city. The research that shows that one out of every two African American and Latino children will get diabetes sometime in their lifetime if we don’t do something now, is also not being questioned.
That poor people who have diabetes have a ten-fold elevated risk of an amputation is also not being debated. Actually, the debate on this initiative is not between Berkeley citizens who are trying to figure out how to best address the health disparities in our city, but rather it is by beverage industry hired guns who are here to kill our efforts, by any means necessary; and with an arsenal of at least $1.4 million they have a lot of “means.”
That the voices of the residents of Berkeley who are in favor of Measure D, the cradle of the Free Speech Movement, are being drowned out by corporate funded speech, is ironic. And their $1.4 million megaphone is very loud. This industry money is buying the services of the best marketing research firms to develop the slickest messaging designed to distract and obfuscate the simple fact that the overconsumption of sugary sweetened beverages causes diabetes. They are trying to make this about everything but health. Why? Because when the issue is about health, they lose. Heck, even the American beverage industry has admitted the need to reduce caloric consumption of their products to improve our nation’s health.
The corporate speech being put forth in mailer after mailer and also by paid canvassers who are saturating our neighborhoods is focused on three things; first, that the tax proposal is flawed because it is too limiting and that it should be expanded beyond sugary sweetened beverages and also include other drinks like milkshakes.
The problem with this argument is that there is overwhelming science that links the increased average per capita caloric intake (about 400 calories/person) over these past thirty years almost exclusively to sugary sodas, not milkshakes—or coffees.
The second point being pushed by the beverage industry money is that the voters cannot be sure the revenues that are raised through this excise tax will be targeted toward diabetes prevention. They ignore that Measure D calls for the formation of a commission comprised of public health experts that will recommend to Council how the revenues can best be used to support our efforts to protect our children’s health.
The third point about the regressivity of the excise tax to communities of color and to poor communities, just makes me mad.
It reminds me of the time when I was a graduate student studying in New York and had to come home to say goodbye to my aunt who was dying from complications of diabetes. I can still hear the urgency in my mother’s voice as she asked me to come see her sister one last time. I vividly remember walking into her room and seeing her in the hospital bed with both legs amputated at the thigh and a colostomy bag hanging at her side. I remember thinking how small she looked. I also remember how her eyes, though having already been blinded by the disease, instinctively followed my voice as I crossed her room. She put up a hard fight, but the disease took her less than a week later. This is what I think about when I hear industry say the excise tax is regressive against people of color and also to the poor. My aunt was both.
Many of us in the Latino community know first-hand what death and debilitation from diabetes looks like. We also know what it feels like to be lied to and when people are trying to confuse the truth and manipulate us into doing something against our own interests.
I refuse to be confused; I refuse to be manipulated; I’m voting Yes on Measure D.
Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.