GUEST COMMENTARY | The Courage to Lead
by Dr. Jeff Ritterman
Oct 07, 2013 | 3969 views | 3 3 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Will Telluride be the first town in the U.S. to establish a significant sugary drink tax to combat the obesity epidemic?  Battle lines are being drawn, and I am told that this initiative is controversial even in a town that has banned plastic bags!

What’s at stake is the health of our children. I say “our” even though I live in California because whatever is decided in Telluride will reverberate throughout the nation and the world.  

The medical science has become clear in the last few years. Liquid sugar, as in sodas and sport drinks, is the worst culprit in the obesity epidemic. Sugary drinks are responsible for more than 40 percent of the almost 300 additional calories Americans have been packing away for the last generation. These are bad calories with no nutritional value that get rapidly converted to dangerous fats by our livers.

It’s not the fat we see which is the problem. In fact, obesity is only a marker for the problem. The problem is called Metabolic Syndrome, and it includes obesity, high blood pressure, high fats (triglycerides) circulating in the blood, low good cholesterol (HDL) and pre-diabetes.  

All of these come from sugary drinks.  The outcomes: diabetes with its complications of amputations, kidney failure (dialysis) and blindness; heart attacks and strokes early in life; liver failure from fatty liver disease and more.

All of the medical experts (American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, the Institute of Medicine, American Academy of Family Physicians, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention) favor a Sugar Sweetened Beverage tax like the one proposed in Telluride.

The only medical voice on the Big Soda side of the debate is Dr. Pepper!

So, if we put our own health and that of our children first, we will vote for a Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax.  But what of the economic concerns raised? It turns out that here, too, the Sugar Sweetened Beverage tax is a winner.  

Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a medical researcher from the Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Medical Center, has shown that the passage of a local Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax would improve our health and that of our children and save us money.  The medical costs a family will face from the problems associated with soda consumption are significantly higher than what the family would pay in Sugar Sweetened Beverage Taxes.

It’s hard to have the courage to be first. I salute Telluride for taking this on. Pass the Soda Tax and you will make history. Other cities, counties and states will follow your lead. You will restore years of otherwise lost life to your children and as it spreads to children everywhere.  

Put the health of your children first; the future depends on it. Please join me and other health and policy experts at the Sugary Drink Tax Forum in Telluride, at the Sheridan Opera House, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10. This forum will be moderated by David Holbrooke, and is meant to give Telluride voters an opportunity to learn more and ask questions about this November’s ballot initiative.

As a Richmond, Calif. councilman, Dr. Jeff Ritterman introduced legislation to turn health research into municipal policy. Due to his efforts, Richmond’s tobacco prevention ordinances are now models for the state. Richmond's Soda Tax campaign was initiated and led by Ritterman as a policy response to the worsening childhood obesity epidemic in Richmond. Ritterman is a special guest at the Sugary Drink Tax Forum, moderated by David Holbrooke, to be held Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Sheridan Opera House at 6p.m. For more information about the local sugary drink tax, visit

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October 08, 2013
It’s hard to have the courage to be first. And it's important to have the courage to say "no" to a bad idea.

This issue is more properly, and more effectively, dealt with through education & parenting. This isn't much of an issue in Telluride, and certainly not one to be addressed through a new tax.

Jim Pettegrew

October 08, 2013
Most people in Telluride drive 130 for groceries.

The sugar tax parameters are unmanageable by the ounce.

The law would require a board to choose products for endorsement,evil brands would be unendorsed. Would we vote for council product endorsement ?

Most people work in town and live and shop out of town. Would the non voters get lobbists for product endorsement ?

Please Vote No. Thank you.
October 07, 2013
I don't know the details of the Telluride tax proposal nor the demographics of that city. But here in Richmond, California we voted resoundingly *against* the tax for some of the reasons outlined in the editorial below. Because obesity is such a problem in our country and soda is a primary culprit I support a State or Federal tax on soda *manufacturers*. Municipal taxes, on the other hand, can be unfair and detrimental to the poorest in our communities and should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis.


July 6, 2012

Richmond’s regressive and indiscriminate sugar tax promises a bitter outcome for our most underserved residents and struggling businesses.

The proposed tax is extraordinarily broad, impacting much more than the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sweetened sodas suspected of causing much of the nation’s obesity. It taxes any non-alcoholic beverage containing any added caloric sweetener including fructose, sucrose, and fruit juice concentrates. This means many alternatives to soda — juice-sweetened sodas, soy milk, almond milk, fruit juice blends, veggie-drinks, ethnic drinks (aguas frescas, Thai iced tea, tapioca pearl drinks, etc) and even baby formula – are all taxed. The tax is blind to quantity — if even a small amount of sweetener is added the entire beverage is taxed $.01 per ounce.

Many of these alternatives are moderately consumed, healthy grocery items; taxing of staples will become even more pronounced when Richmond businesses, as they’ve forewarned, must distribute the cost across all merchandise in order to remain competitive with stores outside our city. Raising the cost of staples through taxation, in a city with nearly double the national and state poverty rate, places an unacceptable burden on our poor.

This effect on our poorest residents is further compounded because our wealthier residents already shop outside Richmond. Supermarkets generally popular with our lower middle-class and up — Safeway, Raley’s, Lucky’s, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, etc. – are all located in neighboring cities. This leaves our poor, with limited means and mobility, to pay the tax at Richmond’s corner stores while the wealthier residents can reap any benefits — without the burden — the tax may bring. This tax is hyper-regressive.

Richmond has many vacant storefronts, a shortage of grocers, and leading supermarkets either refuse to locate here or have left town. Passing a tax making it even costlier to do business assures the shunning of Richmond will continue, while avoidance of the tax will remain the privilege of our wealthier, mobile residents.

Few disagree that the consumption of HFCS sodas is unhealthy and must be reduced, particularly here in Richmond. The proposed sugar tax includes a noteworthy albeit non-mandatory measure tying revenue to as-yet unspecified anti-obesity programs. But in a time of punishing, pension-driven deficits in a city struggling with violent crime, it remains to be seen if revenues won’t be diverted to more immediate concerns such as public safety.

In the absence of a state or national soda tax, a local parcel tax dedicated to health initiatives could be one progressive option that avoids impeding business growth and ensures the wealthy pay their fair share. But as proposed, this municipal tax on sugar will be harmful to a city with such socio-economic disparity and focusing a tax on Richmond’s poor can never be the solution.

See this link for examples of taxed, non-soda beverages:

Felix Hunziker, Richmond, California