[vendtalk] "Save the Children" Breaks With Soda Tax Effort

Vandervoort's vandervoorts at sbcglobal.net
Wed Dec 15 14:17:56 UTC 2010

FYI - This article details the stop in the support of sales tax on soda due
to lack of success in its efforts but denies it is related to grants from
Coke & Pepsi.

Save the Children Breaks With Soda Tax Effort

Published: New York Times, December 14, 2010

Over the last year, Save the Children emerged as a leader in the push to tax
sweetened soft drinks as a way to combat childhood obesity. The nonprofit
group supported soda tax campaigns in Mississippi, New Mexico, Washington
State, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia.
At the same time, executives at Save the Children were seeking a major grant
from Coca-Cola to help finance the health and education programs that the
charity conducts here and abroad, including its work on childhood obesity. 
The talks with Coke are still going on. But the soda tax work has been
stopped. In October, Save the Children surprised activists around the
country with an e-mail message announcing that it would no longer support
efforts to tax soft drinks. 

In interviews this month, Carolyn Miles, chief operating officer of Save the
Children, said there was no connection between the group’s about-face on
soda taxes and the discussions with Coke. A $5 million grant from PepsiCo
also had no influence on the decision, she said. Both companies fiercely
oppose soda taxes. 
Ms. Miles said that after Save the Children took a prominent role in several
soda tax campaigns, executives reviewed the issue and decided it was too
controversial to continue. 
“We looked at it and said, ‘Is this something we should be out there doing
and does this fit with the way that Save the Children works?’ ” she said.
“And the answer was no.” 
Ms. Miles said the talks with Coke were continuing and the grant under
discussion was significantly larger than past donations from the soft drink
giant. Coke has given the group about $400,000 since 1991, according to a
company spokeswoman. 

Save the Children has received much more money from Pepsi through the
PepsiCo Foundation, which it has designated as a “corporate partner” in
recognition of the $5 million grant for work in India and Bangladesh.
PepsiCo awarded the grant in early 2009, before the charity began its soda
tax advocacy. 
Representatives of both Coca-Cola and Pepsi said they had not asked the
charity to alter its position on soda taxes. 
But soda tax advocates say that soft drink makers are flexing their muscles
in opposition to soda taxes. In Washington State, the American Beverage
Association, a trade group that includes Coke and Pepsi, spent $16.5 million
to win passage of a November ballot initiative that overturned a small tax
on soft drinks enacted by the legislature to help plug a budget gap. The
beverage association outspent supporters of the tax by more than 40 to 1,
and the tax was repealed. 
Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children’s Alliance, an advocacy group in
Seattle, said Save the Children’s decision to abandon the issue was “a
significant loss, especially at a time when the American Beverage
Association has just shown that their resources are unlimited.” The alliance
got $25,000 from Save the Children to help advocate for a soda tax. 
Kelly D. Brownell, a soda tax advocate and director of the Rudd Center for
Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, said that many food and beverage
companies made donations to nonprofit groups fighting hunger but it was less
common for them to finance work to address obesity. 

“It would be a shame if there were a quid pro quo and the groups felt
pressure to oppose something like a soda tax,” Mr. Brownell said. 

Public debate about soda taxes has intensified over the last year.
Proponents say that if the tax were large enough, perhaps a penny an ounce
or more, it could reduce consumption of sugary beverages, which are high in
calories and can contribute to obesity. In addition, money raised by the tax
could be spent on public health efforts to fight obesity. 
The soda companies argue that it is unfair to blame their products for the
obesity epidemic, which has complex causes. They say that policies should be
focused instead on getting people to exercise more. 
So far, tax proposals have gotten little traction. Last year, federal
lawmakers considered a soft drink tax to help pay for health care reform,
but that idea was dropped. Governors, state lawmakers and mayors have
proposed taxes but made little headway. 

Save the Children’s involvement in the issue began in late 2009, when it got
a $3.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fight
childhood obesity through a program it called the Campaign for Healthy Kids.
Save the Children initially financed the work of local groups, some of which
focused on improving school lunches and requiring health education in
schools. But local activists in Mississippi, New Mexico and Washington State
used the grants to push for a soda tax. 

When politicians in Philadelphia and Washington proposed soda taxes this
year, the Campaign for Healthy Kids got more directly involved, paying for
lobbyists and polling. “We really took the lead on those and were publicly
identified with those,” said Andrew Hysell, an associate vice president for
Save the Children and the director of the obesity campaign. 
None of the soda tax measures supported by Save the Children passed,
although in Washington, the city council removed a sales tax exemption for
carbonated beverages. 

Save the Children’s prominent role in Philadelphia and Washington led top
executives of the charity to review the work. Ms. Miles said they concluded
the advocacy was not part of the charity’s mission. 
“We made a decision that it was an issue that was controversial among our
constituents and really was not core to the work we’re doing in the U.S.,”
Ms. Miles said. She said that while the charity’s constituents included
corporate donors, concerns over fund-raising were not involved in the

Mr. Hysell informed soda tax advocates of the change in October and the
Campaign for Healthy Kids removed declarations of support for soda taxes
from its Web site. 

Officials of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who had encouraged Save the
Children to advocate for soda taxes, are disappointed. 

“They were obviously some of the strongest out there working on the issue,
and we had such high hopes,” said Dwayne Proctor, team director for
childhood obesity at the foundation. He said the two groups would continue
to work together on other aspects of the obesity fight. 

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