Portland Tribune: My View: Big soda does not speak for me

This article originally appeared on The Portland Tribune and is available here.

Last month the Portland Tribune reported on the proposed tax on sweet drinks for Multnomah County (“Tax on sweet drinks headed for ballot,” June 22). In the article, Jack Evans, the Washington-based spokesman opposing the campaign, said the big soda industry has come to town “to stand with small business owners.”

As a small business owner who has lived in this community for more than 10 years, I want to make it clear: Big soda doesn’t speak for local small businesses, and they certainly don’t speak for me.

I understand the concerns that my fellow business owners might have about this measure. That’s why I looked into the impact of similar measures implemented in other communities on small businesses. And here’s what I’ve learned: A tax on sugary drinks is a win for everyone.

It’s apparent that the large corporations fighting this tax want to use small business as a talking point for their side. But I know that taxes on sugary beverages have won in other states and there has been no significant impact in small businesses’ bottom lines. Consumers are still purchasing drinks from their local small markets, businesses aren’t going under, the sky has not fallen. It’s just big business trying to scare us again.

The debate goes well beyond business, too. It’s also about our communities.

For many small business owners like me, our connection to the community is not simply a matter of dollars and cents. I watch my customers grow up, our kids go to the same schools and we share the same dreams and concerns. I know how important it is that all kids get a chance to go to a great preschool and I believe in investing in the future of my community.

It’s not right that so many families can’t afford preschool and kids are showing up to kindergarten behind. Programs like Head Start successfully provide many kids in my community with the foundation they need to learn and thrive. But unfortunately, thousands of Oregon children still don’t have access to high-quality preschool.

By generating more than $28 million every year, the sweet drinks tax will help expand pre-K programs to kids and families who need it the most. The resources will also help us fund programs that improve children’s health: school gardens, curriculum focused on healthy eating and nutrition science, better playgrounds and more.

The fact is, 40 percent of children will get diabetes in their lifetimes unless we take action. The soda industry knows its most reliable customers are children. They can no longer dispute the negative health impacts of sugar consumption, so they’re now trying to prey on the financial worries of voters. Don’t let them scare you.

Voters will officially have their chance to weigh in on this important measure in 2018. I encourage readers to take a hard look at the industry’s motivation. Why has big soda poured many millions into fighting similar measures in cities throughout the country? To protect their profits. Let’s stop them from winning here, and certainly not in the name of small businesses and working families.

Marci Pelletier owns Shwop Clothing Store in Portland and is a member of Main Street Alliance of Oregon; at oregon.mainstreetalliance.org.