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California city tests waters for soft drinks tax

By Laila Kearney

BERKELEY, California (Reuters) - A California city is to consult its citizens on whether to impose a soda tax on sugary drinks, following failed bids by other local governments to pass similar measures.

The Berkeley City Council will gauge local voter support for a penny-per-ounce tax - opposed by most of the soft drinks industry but which its backers say could help to curb obesity and diabetes - in an opinion poll next week.

Depending on the outcome, it might include a referendum on introducing the tax in a city-wide ballot in November.

Other U.S. cities have tried without success to enact such a tax amid a growing national movement to curb the consumption of high-calorie beverages. Proposals are under consideration in San Francisco and the state of Illinois.

Attempts to tax sugary drinks in two other California cities, Richmond and El Monte, failed in the face of strong opposition from the beverage industry.

A state judge declared a ban on large sugary drinks by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg illegal, but the state's highest court agreed in October to hear an appeal.

The American Beverage Association, a trade group, said earlier this month that a soda tax would have "unintended consequences on middle-class jobs and small businesses."

It declined to comment on the Berkeley initiative.

City officials said their proposed tax, which could be one cent per ounce, would be added at the first point of distribution and generate between $1.5 million and $3 million in public funds annually.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney in Berkeley, California; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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