LINCOLN SQUARE — Cook County’s controversial sweetened beverage tax goes into effect July 1, adding a penny per ounce to the cost of bottled drinks.
The plan will hike the price of a two-liter bottle by 68 cents and a six-pack by 72 cents.
Though often dubbed the “pop tax,” the fee, narrowly approved in November 2016 by the Cook County Board, actually applies to hundreds of beverages beyond soft drinks.
The beverage industry lobby, which continues to oppose the tax, has circulated a sample list of affected drinks, which runs to 11 pages.
A spokesman for the Cook County Bureau of Finance said that since the list was generated by an outside source, the bureau couldn’t “confirm its accuracy with complete certainty.”
If a drink on the list fits the criteria outlined in the sweetened tax ordinance, it would indeed be subject to the levy, the spokesman said.
Those criteria are: “any non-alcoholic beverage, carbonated or non-carbonated, which is intended for human consumption and contains any caloric sweetener or non-caloric sweetener, and is available for sale in a bottle or produced for sale through the use of syrup and/or powdered.”
The definition of “bottle,” per the ordinance, encompasses any sealed container — including cans and juice boxes — made of any material (glass, plastic, metal, etc.).
Beyond obvious culprits like Coca-Cola and Pepsi products, the soft drinks category includes everything from San Pellegrino Limonata to Ocean Spray Sparkling Cranberry Juice to Yoo Hoo.
Sport drinks, fruit beverages, energy drinks, tea and coffee drinks,and “enhanced” waters are also targeted by the tax: Gatorade, Powerade, Capri Sun, Minute Maid, Nantucket Nectars, Red Bull, Frappuccino, Tazo, SoBe and Glaceau Vitaminwater are just a few of the brands subject to the tax.
Exemptions include beverages containing 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, infant formula and liquids sold as meal replacements. Products that contain at least 50 percent milk, or a milk substitute, are also exempt.
Another way to circumvent the fee: buy drink mixes. Packets of Swiss Miss and the like are, for now, not included in the tax ordinance.
In promoting the levy, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle linked sweetened beverages to diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and obesity.
An anti-tax coalition — including the American Beverage Association, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Restaurant Association — continues to argue that the new fee will have a negative effect on businesses.
HOW WILL THE TAX BE COLLECTED?
The tax will also apply to sweet drinks in Chicago, where there’s already a 3 percent tax on retail sales of soft drinks in cans or bottles and a 9 percent tax on the wholesale price of fountain drink syrup.
Drinks bought by families in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program won’t be slapped with the additional tax, as it violates federal law.
WHERE WILL THE MONEY GO?
The tax is expected to raise $224 million a year for Cook County, which the county needs to keep its books out of the red.
Cook County, which has 5.2 million residents, will become the largest municipality in the nation to impose a tax on sugary drinks.
IS ANYONE TRYING TO BLOCK THE TAX?
Maybe. Representatives of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association have suggested they may be weighing a legal challenge on the basis that sales taxes are already charged on beverages.
In addition, the campaign by the Can The Tax Coalition, which includes social media and radio ad spots, is hoping to turn up the pressure on the Cook County Board to repeal the tax, which passed by just one vote.