by Michelle Azurin, PHN Candidate, Measure D Advocate
If you live in Berkeley, you have surely seen something with the words “No on D” somewhere… at the Bart station, on the bus, and even in your mailbox. The American Beverage Association spent almost 2.4 million dollars to ensure that the ease at which a child in Berkeley can get his or her hands on a can of soda never changes. It is often said that money talks-but the 30 dollars spent per voter on marketing the anti-soda tax campaign speaks louder than words. But was it loud enough to drown out the soda industry’s undeniable contribution to the prevailing rates of chronic disease? Apparently not, since three-quarters of Berkeley’s voters turned out in support of Measure D yesterday, passing the first soda tax in the country.
Politics is usually something in which I prefer not to dabble; however, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with “Yes on D,” also known as the Berkeley vs. Big Soda campaign, for my “Advocacy in Action” class (PH 298.4 with Professor Harry Snyder). Why is this something that resonates with me so well?
Shortly before I moved out of my parent’s house to begin graduate school at Cal, my father started taking insulin injections as his type II diabetes could no longer be controlled by oral medication alone. He has had diabetes for as long as I can remember, and his nightly routine has not changed in years: he will always follow up family dinner with a soda and a cigarette (or two). I have witnessed the extent to which diseases like diabetes can constrain a person. Moreover, I have become exposed to the challenges that each individual faces in making the best choices for his or her health; addictive substances are classified as so for a reason. When someone says that people are solely responsible for their health and are entitled to their decisions without guilt (although, to clarify, Measure D is a tax on distributors of sugary drinks, not on consumers), I cannot turn away from the conversation without arguing that the issue is much more complex than this. Considering the cheap price and easy access to poor health decisions, it is no wonder that health care expenditures are as high as they are.
Nonetheless, when canvassing and phone banking for Berkeley vs. Big Soda, I tried to stay away from these nitty-gritty details and keep the conversation focused on the reason why this campaign exists in the first place: the health of our nation’s kids. When presented with the statistic that 40% of children are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime (a statistic which rises to 50% for Latino and African-American children), most voters I spoke to were quick to agree that this is a problem that desperately needs to be addressed. They may argue as to whether or not the tax is truly the optimal way to do it, but it can be agreed that it will at least make people reevaluate whether purchasing soda over water is really the best decision for both their wallet and their health. If you have gotten the chance to attend the talks for the Soda Series, you should have heard that Mexico is already one step ahead of us in passing the law first. By supporting policy that utilizes preventative measures (in all aspects of our social environment) to make health more accessible to each and every person, we support justice in both the food system and in public health.