News analysis reveals soda industry pattern of exploiting local concerns to block tax efforts

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BERKELEY, CA — Thursday, October 9, 2014 — Soda industry tactics used to defeat a 2013 soda tax proposal in the small mountain town of Telluride, CO, bear a striking resemblance to those used to block similar tax efforts in other cities, found a news analysis published today by researchers at Berkeley Media Studies Group.

The analysis, which reviewed newspaper and blog coverage related to the Telluride tax proposal and compared findings to previous news analyses of soda tax proposals in Richmond and El Monte, CA, revealed at least two key, recurring industry strategies: Generating anti-tax arguments that fuel a community's existing tensions and getting those arguments expressed in the news in a veiled way, so that opposition appears to come from within the community.

In Telluride, this meant the soda industry focused on the town's spirit of individualism and used messages that painted the tax proposal as government overreach. In Richmond, the soda industry tailored its arguments to the city's racial and class divisions, portraying the tax as discriminatory to low-income communities and communities of color. And in El Monte, a city in financial distress, industry spokespeople evoked fears of government mismanagement of tax revenue. In each case, the soda industry has relied on front groups to carry its anti-tax messages, giving the illusion of a grassroots opposition.

These findings have implications this fall for the Bay Area cities of Berkeley and San Francisco, which feature soda tax proposals on their November ballots. Early news coverage of the proposals, which would tax soda at one penny and two pennies per ounce, respectively, shows that the soda industry is continuing its anti-tax message strategies found in Telluride, Richmond, and El Monte. In San Francisco, for example, the industry has funded the "Coalition for an Affordable City" to leverage local residents' concerns about the city's rising cost of living.

The study's authors will discuss these and other findings during a tweet chat, co-hosted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, today (October 9) at 10 a.m. PDT (1 p.m. EDT). To participate, follow @BMSG and #SodaTaxNews.

View the full report at


This analysis was commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its Healthy Eating Research program. We also thank The California Endowment for supporting this study.

About Berkeley Media Studies Group
Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) researches the way public health issues are characterized in the media and helps community groups, journalists and advocates use the media to advance healthy public policy. BMSG is a project of the Public Health Institute.

Media contact
Heather Gehlert

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