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Soda And Fast Food Lobbyists Push State Preemption Laws To Prevent Local Regulation

June 2017

Rob Waters, Forbes, JUN 21, 2017

When the city council of Santa Fe, New Mexico, placed a measure on the local ballot to tax sugary drinks earlier this year, the soda industry responded quickly, pouring $1.3 million into the anti-tax campaign. To cover their bases, industry lobbyists also pursued a back-up plan: they backed a bill in the state legislature to strip local governments of the power to levy such taxes.

In the end, the state language was added to another bill that sailed through the New Mexico House before dying in a Senate committee, shortly before Santa Fe voters defeated the local soda tax. But as a growing number of cities consider and increasingly pass soda taxes and other measures designed to combat obesity and promote healthy eating, the food industry has turned to a strategy used extensively by the tobacco and gun lobbies…

At least nine states have passed nutrition-related preemption laws, according to Grassroots Change, a nonprofit group that monitors state preemption efforts. Others have adopted measures that keep cities from requiring employers to provide paid sick leave or nullifying laws that protect gay or transgender people from discrimination…

State preemption as a concerted strategy “was essentially invented by the tobacco industry in the mid 1980s,” says Mark Pertschuk, an attorney and public health advocate who directs Grassroots Change. In the 80s, he said, activists were winning passage of no-public-smoking ordinances in a growing number of cities, including in Florida…

After their success in Florida, the tobacco industry pursued a “50-state strategy,” Pertschuk said, trying to get similar preemption laws passed in statehouses around the country. By the end of the 1990s, more than 20 states had passed them, he said.

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