“Soda” by Jannes Pockele is licensed under CC BY 2.0

State Preemption Laws Threatens Local Ability to Implement Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Eric Crosbie, PhD, MA Assistant Professor  School of Community Health Sciences Ozmen Institute for Global Studies University of Nevada Reno

Dr. Crosbie

Eric Crosbie, PhD, MA
Assistant Professor
School of Community Health Sciences
Ozmen Institute for Global Studies
University of Nevada Reno

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: My colleague Dr. Laura Schmidt and I established a framework for studying preemption (when a higher level of government limits the authority of lower levels to enact laws) by studying the history of state preemption of local tobacco control policies in the U.S., which we published last year (2020) in AJPH. We noticed the same strategies that the tobacco industry employed were now being used by the beverage industry to suppress local taxation policies on sugar sweetened beverages (e.g. soda, coffee drinks, energy drinks, etc). We used this preemption framework to publish a new study this year in AJPH that analyzed state preemption of local sugar sweetened beverage taxes in the U.S. 

 MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

 Response: Here are the main findings of the study:

  • The beverage industry spent at least $50 million between 2016 and 2018 on preemption attempts in 8 US states.
  • Starting in 2017, 4 states passed preemption (Arizona, California, Michigan and Washington State)
  • Starting in 2017, 4 states rejected preemption (Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania)
  • The beverage industry attempted to secure state preemption through 1) front groups and trade associations, 2) lobbying key policymakers, 3) inserting preemptive language into other legislation, and 4) issuing legal threats and challenges.
  • The public health community’s response is in the early stages of 1) engaging in media advocacy, 2) educating policymakers, 3) mobilizing national collaboration, and 4) expanding legal networks
  • The beverage industry has framed soda taxes as “grocery taxes” to confuse voters
  • The public health community’s response to preemption has mainly been reactive because of lack of funding and resources
  • State preemption for SSB taxes has already created a chilling effect by forcing localities to withdraw local SSB tax initiatives.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

 Response: Two big takeaways:

First, those who are interested in public health and nutrition, state preemption is an emerging threat to that limits local authority to implement sugar sweetened beverage taxes that have been scientifically proven to reduce consumption and purchasing, increase awareness about health effects, and help manufacturers reformulate beverages towards healthier options. The beverage industry is aggressively spending millions of dollars to secure preemption because they know these policies work and they don’t want to lose profits. Second, those who are interested in other social policies, state preemption is increasingly being used to limit local democracy on a range of societal issues including local plastic bag laws, gun control laws, minimum wage, LGBTQ rights, paid sick leave and even local efforts to control the spread of Covid-19 (e.g. through business closures).

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Future research should continue to examine state preemption as a legal tool to limit local democracy and authority, which increasingly is favoring corporate profits at the expense of public health, social justice and the environment. Research should continue examining preemption in public health but also on state preemption of local plastic bag laws, gun control laws, minimum wage, LGBTQ rights, paid sick leave and Covid-19.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Two more important points. First, once preemption laws are enacted, they create a chilling effect that severely cripples local progress. Second, state preemption is extremely difficult to repeal (e.g. repeal of state laws preempting local smoke-free air laws-one of only a few public health policy topics ever repealed across the country-took, on average, 12 years.) Once state preemption is locked in it is very difficult to reverse, thus limiting local democracy and authority.


Eric Crosbie, Jennifer L. Pomeranz, Kathrine E. Wright, Samantha Hoeper, and Laura Schmidt, 0:
State Preemption: An Emerging Threat to Local Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxation
American Journal of Public Health 0, e1_e10, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2020.306062




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Last Updated on February 24, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD