SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Saying that consuming too much sugar is a serious health problem, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders told the soft drink industry to stop using his name in ads fighting proposed soda taxes in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Vermont senator said in a statement Thursday that campaign commercials and mailers implying that he opposes soda tax measures on the Nov. 8 ballot in San Francisco and Oakland are false.
Neighboring Albany also has a penny-per-ounce tax measure on its ballot.
"I have not taken any position on those ballot items and I have asked the American Beverage Association to stop using my name in connection with this misleading advertising," Sanders said.
His Senate campaign noted his objections in a cease-and-desist letter sent to the association on Oct. 10.
Soda tax opponents, funded largely by the beverage association, have gleefully touted Sanders in their campaign against the measures. Sanders opposed a soda tax in Philadelphia, calling it a regressive tax that would hurt poor consumers.
"The ad accurately speaks to the fact that these taxes are regressive - a point that Senator Sanders made not just once or twice, but emphasized multiple times in multiple forums during his presidential campaign - and that they disproportionately affect low- and middle-income Americans," Joe Arellano, a spokesman for the opposition campaigns, said in a statement. "The ad accurately portrays his position."
However, the statement added, "if Mr. Sanders wants to stay out of these local issues, we will respect that as well."
Bay Area opponents say a tax would harm small grocers and customers, and that the money raised could be used for anything by city government.
Sanders' news cheered tax proponents, who say the sugary drinks contribute to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
"I would call on the television stations that are currently running the misleading ads to stop doing so immediately," said Dr. John Maa, secretary of the San Francisco Medical Society and tax proponent.
Sanders said the version of the tax he opposed in Philadelphia was three times higher than those being considered in the Bay Area.
"Excessive sugar consumption is a serious health problem for children and all of us," he said in his statement. "Every community in our country will determine how best to address this major health crisis."
The tax on sugary drinks — including sweetened tea, soda, and energy drinks — is on distributors and is not paid by customers who buy the drinks. There is no tax proposed on diet drinks.